Risk Reduction Strategies: Case of Nightclub Fires


A risk is a possibility of a negative out from an event or with time. It can result in a loss, when money and property is involved or danger when life is involved. Since time immemorial, man has looked for ways to evade risk or times to minimize it. The consequences of any fire related risk can be temporally, chronic or even permanent leading to a complete change of life (Thygerson, Thygerson, & Thygerson, 2008). Families are affected both financially and emotionally when they watch their relative or family member suffer from an illness. Sometimes, even marital relationships are broken due to such tragedies. This paper is an analysis of several case studies, including the case study of nightclub fire and others related to risk reduction strategies based on fire experience. It also explains the cultural and public effects of the failure to mitigate such risk.

Analysis of Nightclub Fires

For the past decades, life losses from fire tragedies involving assembly occupancies have been experienced and fire mitigation strategies set from time to time with limited success. A few case studies of nightclub fires will be discussed with the aim of not judging the institution involved, but to find a possible solution to complete risk reduction in fire management. On-site data analysis of investigation done at the fire scene is the key determinant of possible causes of life loss in any fire tragedy (Duval, 2003).

The Rhythm club fire occurred in 23rd April 1940 in Mississippi. The fire left 207 people dead and over 200 people with injuries. Rhythm club had a population of 700 people at the time of the fire incident. According to the layout, the club had only one exit door measuring 0.9 m wide (Duval, 2003). To make it worse, the door opened inward and the 24 windows of the club were permanently shut at the time. The origin of the fire was the hamburger stand which was located next to the only exit therefore patrons next to the entrance were the only ones able to escape. Another contributing factor to the rapid spread of the fire was the infrastructural building materials being highly combustible.

On the other hand, the cocoanut grove nightclub fire occurred in November 28th, 1942 in Boston. At the time of the fire, the building had over 1000 occupants with only one entrance and predominantly three exits. The onset of the fire allegedly presumed to be a faulty light bulb spread smoke and flames that provoked panic. Most individual ran towards the entrance revolving door that quickly jammed as the patrons pushed toward it. Most exits being inward opening were shut as most people crashed in an attempt to escape the fire. The response of the fire department was superb and aid of civilians in the rescue mission was impressive. The troll of the cocoanut grove nightclub fire reached 492 with most bodies piled at the revolving door entrance and shut exit. After the incident, several changes were made toward safety realization, the changes included, a clear definition of night clubs and restaurants as public assemblies and infrastructural changes based on exit definition, combustible materials and automatic sprinklers. The national fire protection association came up with building fire safety codes that strictly prohibited the decoration of restaurants and night clubs with highly combustible materials and a regulation set, that every building of public assembly should have at least two ideal egress (Duval, 2003).

Beverly hill super club fire tragedy occurred in 28th May 1977. The incident resulted in approximately 164 deaths and several other people injured. The fire started in an unoccupied room known as the zebra room that attributed to the delayed discovery of the fire. Several factors attributed to high fatality in the Beverly hill super club tragedy include: the lack of employees training in the emergency action plan in case of fire tragedy, overcrowding, poor construction of egress, luck of automated sprinkler in the facility and the lack of a fire alarm system (Duval, 2003). On a close analysis of the three tragedies, a constant pattern of similarity can be identified. For example, in all the scenarios, combustible infrastructure such as wooden petitioning and decorative materials can be seen. Overcrowding coupled with inadequate egress capacity is a major factor contributing to high fatality in the three fire incidences (Gallagher & Tom, 2005). 

The Station Night Club Fire

The night club fire is one of the catastrophic fire tragedies in the history of the United States. It occurred in 20th February 2002 in Rhode Island at a Station night club situated in West Warwick. The fire resulted in 100 people dead and over 200 people injured (Duval, 2003). The club layout and construction were equipped to deal fire tragedies. For example, the building had four exits at the kitchen, bar side, platform and the main entrance. The building also had fire alarms that consisted of heat detectors and horn sound warning systems. Automated sprinklers were also installed in the facility with available fire extinguishing apparatus available at strategic points including kitchen.

Presence of combustible building and decorative material is one the major leading cause of fatality in the nightclub fire tragedy. Smoke emanating from these materials caused significant lung damage to the victim and those inside the club died of suffocation (World Health Organization, 2007). With this in mind, the NFPA developed as set of categories in building material, where class A materials had a flame spread of 0-25, class B, 26-75 and class C, 76-200. In all classes the flame spread was at 0-450. Specification of construction materials stated the use of class A or B in corridors and ceilings and strictly class A is confined staircase. The exception, of the use of class C materials in internal furnish is when the occupant capacity is less than 300.

Haddon’s Matrix

Haddon’s matrix is a formulation, presentation that gives ideal strategies of dealing with risk prevention and intervention. The presentation contains 12 boxes, which, when filled appropriately reduces the chances of incurring a risk (Runyan, 2012). On the y axis the matrix contains pre-Event, Event and Post Event while on the x axis the matrix contains; host, Agent, Physical environment, and social environment. For example, in the case of the station nightclub fire, under Pre-Event, host would be employee equipment in handling fire tragedies, the agent would be fair. Under Event, the host would to notify occupants of a fire event and the agent would be fire safety precautions. Finally, under post event, the host would be the maintenance of a healthy status of the occupants and patrons and the environment would be trauma care and hospitalization of the victims.


In all the four fire tragedies above, a pattern of ignorance can be identified. For example, a simple design error is evident all the tragedies where the exit doors close inward instead of outwards. A factor like this would have minimized the fatality up to 50%. Heavy penalties should be imposed on the owners of such facilities who do not adhere to safety, construction strategies as stipulated by the NFPA. Other institution involved in risk reduction and management includes the international federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies that are aimed at lifesaving, discouraging violence by promoting peace, developing strategies of disaster preparedness and disaster remediation programs and finally promoting healthy lively hood. The world health organization also has six strategies of disaster management and preparedness.



Duval, R. (2003). NFPA case studies nightclub fires. Quincy USA: Fire Investigation Department.

Gallagher, S., & Tom, C. (2005). Injury Prevention and Public Health. Portland: Oxford UP.

Runyan, C. (2012, June 5). Injury Prevention. Retrieved from Using the Haddon matrix: introducing the third dimension: http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/4/4/302.full

Thygerson, A., Thygerson, S., & Thygerson, J. (2008). Magnitude and Burden of the Injury Problem. SINGAPORE: JONES AND BARTLETT PUBLISHERS.

World Health Organization. (2007). Risk reduction and emergency preparedness-WHO six-year Strategies for the Health Sector and Comunity Capacity Development. Oxfordshire: Oxford.


RELATED: Introduction to Risk Management Processes