On November 28, 1942 a night of entertainment and fun turned deadly when a fire broke out in Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub. The fire killed 492 people. It’s estimated that only five minutes lapsed between the time the fire ignited in a basement lounge and when it burst through the entrance on the first floor.
Some of the contributing factors to the high number of fatalities:
- Highly flammable décor that ignited quickly and allowed the fire to spread rapidly.
- Crowds that exceeded the club’s capacity.
- Exit doors that were locked to prevent patrons from skipping out on their bar tabs.
- A revolving door that jammed.
- Lighting that failed, leaving occupants to search blindly in the dark for an escape.
The Cocoanut Grove fire triggered changes in fire and building codes in the city of Boston and across the U.S. Hospital and medical personnel cared for a large number of burn and smoke inhalation patients, leading to advances in the treatment of these types of patients. The fire is now a case study in many firefighter training programs and college fire science curriculums.
For more comprehensive information on the Cocoanut Grove fire, check out the following resources:
The Cocoanut Grove Fire – a Project of the Cocoanut Grove Coalition http://www.cocoanutgrovefire.org/
“Last Dance at the Cocoanut Grove” by Casey C. Grant, P.E. (NFPA Journal November/December 2007)