Is your business ready for crowd control?

Given a recent nightclub fire in Seattle, this is a good opportunity to visit the issue of safety in public assemblies and how we can achieve good results in our communities.

It appears there were a number of positive issues that culminated in making an arson fire set in an occupied nightclub on New Year’s Eve a non-event.

(Background note: Just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2014, an arsonist poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway in a Seattle nightclub and set it on fire. Approximately 750 people were in the nightclub at the time.)

The nightclub was crowded, but likely within its occupant load. An arsonist poured gasoline on the exit stairs and set them on fire. News accounts state staff and a patron used fire extinguishers on the fire with some success. The club’s sprinklers also activated, keeping the fire in check.

The entire crowd exited unharmed, and damage was minimized by the combination of fire extinguishers and a sprinkler system — we should remember “Anything that gets wet will eventually dry out; something that burns will never unburn.” Adequate exits, trained staff, portable extinguishers and sprinklers all played important roles in this incident.

If someone set a fire in a nightclub in Hood River, would the outcome be the same? I suspect the answer is “maybe,” so I’d like to remind everyone of the importance of trained crowd managers.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals promotes training that includes a significant amount of basic fire prevention instruction, including egress maintenance, ensuring fire protection systems are functional, use of portable extinguishers, and following the facility’s emergency action plan, among others.

Having trained crowd managers in public assemblies expands our ability to raise the level of safety by placing people with a basic level of fire prevention and overall safety in each facility.

One question arises with some frequency: “Are trained crowd managers required?” Most all Hood River businesses do not meet mandated needs; but consider the following:

n In movie theaters, trained crowd managers should inspect their area of responsibility before each shift, making sure that access is adequately controlled without jeopardizing egress; this will enhance security and safety.

n In restaurants, trained crowd managers should check kitchen hood systems to ensure they will function should a fire occur in the cooking area.

n In stadiums and arenas, crowd managers knowledgeable about rules relating to contraband will help prevent a crowd from getting out of control.

n In hotel ballrooms, keeping the exits clear of catering carts, etc., will allow timely egress from the ballroom during an emergency.

These are only a few examples where trained crowd managers will make a significant difference.

It is not feasible (or possible) for Hood River Fire & EMS to have personnel that could be in every assembly occupancy or event; trained crowd managers can partially fill that gap.

In the city of Hood River, regardless of the size of your business, it is your responsibility to make your business as safe as possible. Note that access to the crowd manager training program is available through the NASFM website.

The commentary above is adapted from an article from William Degnan, president of the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

What I do know to be true about the city of Hood River is that there are many occupancies that can benefit from dedicating a person to focus on fire and life safety basics.

Many of the fire code violations based on past inspections have revealed that in the case of a power black-out there is no battery illumination in exit signs to show an exit door or there is no battery illumination of the emergency lights to provide a lit pathway to the exit door or both! Blocking of or diminishing clearance on exit pathways has also been a common violation.

Consider being in a restaurant, theater, church etc., closing your eyes and trying to find your way out; now imagine that you may be one of a hundred people trying to do the same!

Businesses can take this training online and develop their own safety plan that will address the roles staff may play during an emergency. Hood River Fire & EMS can assist you in the development and training needed to implement your program.

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Peter Mackwell is fire marshall for Hood River Fire Dept.

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