Inadequate Building Design Contributed to 492 Deaths in Boston Nightclub
Shortly after 10 p.m. on Saturday, November 28, 1942, a fire at the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub in Boston left 492 dead and many others injured. This tragedy, which occurred 70 years ago, is still one of the deadliest fires in the history of the United States.
At the time of the fire, the Cocoanut Grove Club was a multi-function nightclub and entertainment facility. The nightclub was one-story high with a basement.
The fire started in a basement cocktail lounge. Because combustible decorations and wall/ceiling finishes were installed throughout the building, the fire rapidly spread up the stairs and throughout the first floor.
Over 1,000 people were crowded into the building at the time of the fire, well above the building’s safe capacity. Many of the occupants tried to exit through the main building entrance located on the first floor. This exit quickly became blocked when the occupants attempted to exit through a revolving door that quickly jammed. Over 200 of the dead were piled up behind this revolving door. Others could not exit safely when they found several other locked exit doors.
Additionally, the building was not equipped with a automatic fire sprinkler system.
As a result of this fire, many building requirements were enhanced to make nightclubs and other buildings with large populations safer from fire. Some of these requirements included provisions for improved exiting systems, safer interior finishes, emergency planning and the installation of fire alarm and automatic fire suppression systems.