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Article On Night Clubs Essay

2043 words - 8 pages

Disasters at clubs repeat tragic historyBy Big WolfOver the decades, from the Cocoanut Grove to the Beverly Hills Supper Club to The Station, the formula for a nightclub disaster is always the same: too many people, too few exits and too little time to escape.The two calamities last week that killed 118 people in clubs in Chicago and West Warwick, R.I., were the latest in a series of tragedies over a period of 60 years, each of which led to reforms that have made such disasters less likely.Nevertheless, not impossible. Not if the improved safety rules are not enforced or observed. Not if those who inspect, operate and patronize nightclubs act like characters in a Twilight Zone episode, doomed to endlessly learn a painful lesson, forget it and learn it again."This could happen anywhere in the United States," says Paul Wertheimer, a crowd safety consultant based in Chicago. "The problem is lax enforcement of existing safety laws (and) a recklessness of the industry."The Chicago nightclub where 21 people died early Monday after the use of pepper spray to break up a fight touched off a stampede was open despite a court order. The Rhode Island fire, which killed 97 lateThursday, was ignited by the illegal use of fireworks during a rock show. The club had passed a safety inspection six weeks ago.The fire in Rhode Island was the nation is deadliest in a quarter-century and the worst in the history of rock 'n' roll. It surpassed a 1999 stampede at a concert in Minsk, Belarus, that killed 53 people.At the two clubs last week -- The Station in West Warwick and E2 on Chicago's Near South Side -- "there was no emergency evacuation plan, no emergency planning, no way to manage the crowd," says Wertheimer, the safety consultant.Both clubs were overcrowded. The Station was believed to have about 40 patrons above its legal capacity of 300, and E2 had about 500 people in a space that was not supposed to be open at all. Chicago officials had gone to court in July to shut down the nightclub because of building- and fire-code violations, but it continued to operate.Although fire and smoke are lethal enough, in many cases the most horrible killer is the crowd itself. Five people pushing with all their might can exert a force of 700 pounds or more, says Jake Pauls, a Maryland consultant in building use and safety.At The Station, firefighters found 25 bodies jammed around the ruins of the front door. Another cluster of bodies was found between an exit and the stage. In Chicago, a police investigator likened patrons at E2 who rushed the front doors to "a cork in a bottle."Robert Lawson, a University of Kentucky law professor who investigated the 1977 fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky., that killed 165 people, says no one could forget the sight of bodies crushed against the exit doors. "They were stacked up like cordwood," Lawson says.At the Cocoanut Grove fire, which killed 492 people in Boston in 1942, bodies were found pressed five and six deep...

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