Iroquois Theatre Fire – December 30, 1903

December 29, 2010

The Iroquois Theatre fire occurred on December 30, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois. It is the deadliest theater fire in United States history. Over 600 people died as a result of the fire, and it is believed that not all the deaths were reported.

The Iroquois Theater had just opened on November 23, 1903, and was touted as being absolutely “FIREPROOF!” An asbestos fire curtain was installed to isolate the stage from the audience. Despite the warnings of fire officials and engineers, the show went on. The roof over the stage was nailed shut, many of the fire exits reportedly did not have working stairs to the ground, there were no exit signs, exit routes from the balconies were complicated, and there were no exit route signs installed. The asbestos fire curtain at the stage was reported to be of flimsy material which burned to a crisp in the fire. There were no fire drills conducted by the theater for ushers and employees. When the fire broke out, they did not have adequate training and knowledge of what they should do in a fire!

The capacity of the theater was 1,724, but the crowd that night is expected to have far exceeded the rated capacity. On December 30, 1903, during the second act, a light sputtered and a piece of machinery caught fire. The electrician could not pot the fire out, but the performers continued with the show. Back doors were opened, which created an influx of oxygen to feed the fire.

In a all too familiar scene, people were trampled to death in the onslaught of panicking patrons trying to exit the building. Stairs had been blocked and locked with gates, preventing patrons to exit. Several exit doors had been locked to prevent outsiders from slipping in without playing.

After the fire, Carl Prinzler, a salesman for Vonnegut Hardware Company, Indianapolis realized that he was to have been at the performance that day, and a stroke of fate prevented him from going. He became obsessed with the tragedy, and eventually developed a new device in collaboration with Henry DuPont, an engineer: The Crash Bar. The patent was awarded in 1908. Today, variations of the Crash Bar are required on all exit doors of public buildings.

New codes were implemented across the nation for theaters and exiting in all public buildings. Unfortunately, new codes take time to implement. Unfortunately, building owners and managers refuse to learn from the lessons of the past in an effort to meet a personal goal or agenda. These type tragedies would continue. A few years later, some of these same lessons were repeated at another high-profile fire: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 25 1911.

Watch for the upcoming edition of ASSE Fireline for an in-depth article titled “Carl Prinzler’s Invention and The Iroquois Theater Fire” by Trevor Simon.

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Chicago Fire Fatalities

December 22, 2010

Media sources in Chicago are reporting two firefighters have died from injuries at a three alarm fire this morning (December 22, 2010). Other firefighters are injured.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those involved and the CFD. This is yet another tragic event in the fire service history.

As fate might have it… December 22 is also the anniversary of the 1910 fire at Union Stock Yard & Transit Co. (or The Yards). This was the meat-packing district of Chicago since 1865. The Chicago Union Stock Yards Fire started on December 22, 1910, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property and killing 21 firemen. The fire continued to burn until December 23.


Watch videos of Dry Christmas Trees on Fire!

December 17, 2010

Trees used indoors for the holidays account for approximately 400 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 80 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage. These videos demonstrate how quickly the fire can develop when a DRY tree is exposed to an open flame. These videos are developed by National Institute of Standards and Technology, and are made available in the public domain.

See the videos at:


Happy Holidays!

December 14, 2010

I would like to wish all my readers and friends a Happy Holiday Season and Best Wishes for a Prosperous and Fire-Safe 2011!


Deadliest hotel fire in the USA – December 7, 1946

December 3, 2010

The Winecoff Hotel Fire occurred  a little after 3:00 am on December 7, 1946. It is the deadliest hotel fire in the USA, killing 119 of 280 guests. The Winecoff Hotel is located at the corner of Peachtree Street and Ellis Street in downtown Atlanta, GA. At fifteen stories, the Winecoff Hotel was Atlanta’s tallest hotel. It was advertised as a “fireproof” hotel because it was constructed of brick, masonry, and stone.

The Winecoff Hotel opened on October 30, 1913. It was 15 stories tall, had a central-spiral staircase and an elevator that was under the control of an operator. The building lacked fire escapes, fire doors or automatic fire sprinklers. Floors were not provided adequate fire cut-offs from one another as we are accustomed to seeing today. Guests trapped on the upper floors tried to climb down bed sheets or rope, only to lose their grip and fall to their death. This is yet another major fire that shaped the fire codes as we know them today.

For more detailed information, visit: http://www.winecoff.org/

The U.S. Fire Administration offers these tips on Hotel and Motel Fire Safety

When traveling, it is important to become familiar with your surroundings.

Plan Ahead

• When making your reservations, ask if the hotel or motel has smoke detectors and fire sprinklers.

• When traveling, take a flashlight with you.

• Read the fire evacuation plan carefully. If one is not posted in your room, request one from the front desk.

• Locate the two exits from your room.

• Count the number of doors between your room and the exits. This will assist you in the need of an emergency evacuation.

• Locate the fire alarms on your floor.

• Never smoke in bed.

Life Safety Steps

• If the fire is in your room, get out quickly. Close the door, sound the alarm and notify the front desk.

• Always use a stairwell, never an elevator. The elevator could stop at the floor of the fire.

• If the fire is not in your room, leave if it is safe to do so. Be sure to take your room key with you in case fire blocks your escape and you need to re-enter your room.

• To check the hallway for fire, touch the door with the back of your hand to test the temperature. If the door is cool, get low to the floor, brace your shoulder against the door and open it slowly. Be ready to close it quickly if there are flames on the other side. Crawl low in the smoke to the nearest exit; the freshest air is near the floor.

• If your room door is hot, do not open it. Instead, seal the door with wet towels or sheets. Turn off the fans and air conditioners. Call the fire department to give your location. Signal from your window.

http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/hotel.shtm