Lessons? How Many Times?
I saw my friend burn up. We were running from the fireball. I turned to shout to him and saw he was engulfed in flame, crumbling to the ground.”
This statement was made to one of the investigators on the scene of the Dumont Plaza Hotel holocaust in Puerto Rico that snuffed out 96 lives. The formal investigation is ongoing, but the initial reports indicate that a similar occurrence is just waiting to repeat itself at any time.
The incident began at approximately 3:30 P.M.when an incendiary fire was started in combustibles stored in a section of the ballroom on the first floor of the 20-story, non-sprinklered hotel. The adjacent casino and lobby were occupied by 200-250 awake and aware guests. The fire spread with such speed and ferocity that it trapped and enveloped most of the 96 fatalities as they were attempting to exit.
One of the horrors of this hotel fire lies in the death record experienced there. The investigation reports the fire’s growth and spread as ordinary and predictable. Contributing factors are listed as lack of or improper codes and inspection and enforcement procedures; inoperative detectors and alarm systems; flammable decorations; restricted, illegal, and inappropriate exits; poor employee training; inadequate fire protection; etc.
We have seen these lessons before. Too often. And therein lies the second horror of the Dumont Plaza Hotel fire. The 96 fatalities only increase the statistics of avoidable fire deaths since the turn of the century. Yet, we are still in the grip of debates on flame spread, toxicity, piping quality, smoke control, and code making that seem to go on forever for a variety of reasons.
We have the answer and have had it for many years. All current data still support the fact that there has never been a multiple-life loss in any fire occupancy that contained a properly installed and functioning sprinkler system. It is the only fail-safe control for toxicity, flame-spread, and smoke control. With a working sprinkler system, there is no extending tire and therefore no increasing life safety problem. The fire is extinguished without worldwide concern. Stated more simply: No fire—no problem.