Fire danger is very real

by Beacon Staff • February 22, 2006

The fire at the Cocoanut Grove, a popular hangout for Boston's night scene, was devastating.

According to estimates by the local fire department, roughly 300 people could have been saved had the club's doors opened outward instead of inward.,On Nov. 28, 1942, 492 people lost their lives in what would be perhaps one of Boston's greatest tragedies of the last century.

The fire at the Cocoanut Grove, a popular hangout for Boston's night scene, was devastating.

According to estimates by the local fire department, roughly 300 people could have been saved had the club's doors opened outward instead of inward. This, along with other current fire code standards, became official policy in the wake of the tragedy.

They exist today only because the citizens of this city had the unfortunate experience of witnessing the consequences of ignoring potential emergency situations.

Emerson's Little Building (LB) houses approximately 750 students on 10 residential floors.

It has two staircases, one of which is constantly closed, neither of which provide easy access to the first or second floors on a daily basis.

There are about 15 steps between each floor (360 total) and each step appears to be slightly less than a yard in length.

There is barely enough room to fit the entire population of the building into its own fire escape routes, and any scenario would absolutely be far from comfortable.

The entrances to the stairways are also somewhat inconspicuous (the emergency-only stairs in particular), a trait which is congruent with general lack of use.

Imagine, if you will, two students on a small, rectangular surface only eight to 10 inches wide and just a few feet long.

Now imagine those students pinned against people packing the stairway both in front of and behind them. Add to this frightening fantasy a raging fire on one of the floors, spreading smoke and heat at a devastatingly rapid pace.

Historically, the mad rush in many such tragedies is almost as dangerous as the fire itself, creating a climate dictated by mob mentality where panic-stricken minds ignore the possibility of trampling other people.

Just three years ago, a fire at The Station, a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., claimed the lives of 100 people.

From home videos of the interior of the club taken by patrons, it was clear that in the rush to make it outside, rampant pushing and shoving could have easily forced people to the ground, leaving them vulnerable to trampling.

In the case of the Little Building, the idea of this panic occurring in one of the stairways does not paint a pretty picture.

Were a fast-spreading fire to occur in the Little Building, it is difficult to believe that the building's current escape routes would allow everyone to get out unscathed.

The Little Building has passed fire code, but an orderly escape by college students from the building is something that authorities wrongly count on.

It's senseless for students to get hurt because the college did not accurately foresee the kind of escape students are likely to make.We need to create an emergency escape plan adequate enough to provide all residents with the ability to avoid harm.

Emerson cannot afford to be apathetic when it comes to fire safety. Simply asserting that the chances of a fire are low does not give us an excuse to be unprepared.

The LB needs another fire escape route, or at least a reworking of its current stair system.

We do not want history to remember Emerson College, much like the Cocoanut Grove, for being responsible for the creation of new fire codes.