One of the deadliest nightclub fires in United States history occurred on May 28, 1977, a busy Memorial Day weekend in the suburbs of Cincinnati. The Beverly Hills Supper Club was a popular nightclub located in Southgate, Campbell County, Kentucky in the greater Cincinnati area. It was located on a hill less than 1000 ft. from the highway on seventeen acres of land just three miles from downtown Cincinnati (Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire D-1). It has since become a case study for its numerous code violations and the behavior of the fire from ignition to building collapse. While there is no one contributing factor to the significant loss of life at this facility, a study of the building’s history, the sequence of the fire’s progression, and an analysis of the fire’s chemistry can provide some valuable lessons to the future firefighter.
In order to better understand the dynamics of this fire, one must first take a look at the background of the building and the conditions that existed prior to the fire. At the time of the fire, the 54,000 square foot building was divided into nineteen separate rooms (Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire D-10). The original building was built in the 1940’s, but had recently been subject to numerous remodeling and additions. According to the "Investigative Report to the Governor", the construction type of the building was "unprotected non-combustible" and the fire resistance rating of the roof-ceiling was undetermined. There were suspended ceilings of plaster throughout the first and second floors, with a 3-foot airspace between the ceiling and the roof. The 1970 expansion projects, including the kitchen, Garden Room and Cabaret room were one story concrete block and brick additions with poured concrete floors and the roofs were built-up cover on steel decks (Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire D-12). These details in construction are important because the concealed spaces and the haphazard construction from the remodels may have been the reason the fire went undiscovered for over an hour.
This building had been through multiple battles with fires in its lifetime much before the one in 1977. The building had caught fire during a remodel on June 21, 1970. The case was closed after investigation without being able to determine the cause of the fire. When the building reopened in Feb. 1971 there were records of violation from the Fire Marshall's office for Standards of Safety state code violations. No record was ever found that these were corrected prior to 1977 (Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire D-3). Another occurrence was when there was an electrical fire at the main electrical panel in 1974 that was extinguished with a fire extinguisher (Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire D-8). Remodeling of the Zebra Room in 1975 was completed with richly decorated paneled walls and plush carpeting and no building permits or electrical inspections (Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire D-9). All of these were...