Nightclub Fire Safety by Karl Harris

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Nightclub Fire Safety – Being a Step Ahead! So, Nobody Gets Left Behind

Introduction

Friday the 13th, 1981, a night that truly rocked our small green Emerald Isle. Stardust Nightclub! Even typing it puts a lump in my throat. Artane, Dublin, Stardust Nightclub, 841 people, 214 injured and 48 people who tragically lost their lives.

It is because of this tragic event which in my opinion, fire safety became an indirect duty going forward for all security personnel in the nightclub industry.

With this article/report, I hope to educate and show the importance of your role as door staff in relation to fire safety. Believe it or not, people who are out drinking and having fun, put their life in your hands once they step onto your premises and purchase your alcohol. As a business owner or the face of the venue, you hold a duty of care to your staff and to the public.

Stardust Nightclub, 1981

The moment the job evolved

“A waitress, Mrs Elizabeth Prizeman shouted to a doorman Leo Doyle, “Leo, there is a fire inside”. He and his colleagues went to fight the fire.” (wiki/Stardust_fire).

Just like that, Mr Doyle and his colleagues went to fight the fire. It is in this sentence alone, the responsibility to fight the fire now belonged to the door staff. In my opinion (within reason) this was and is the wrong thing to do.

Why is this the wrong thing to do?

You can replace a building, you can even replace alcohol. However, you CANNOT replace a life. I will discuss more on this later. It’s important to note why I feel the duties of fire safety became an indirect responsibility for all door staff.

Where did it go wrong with Stardust Nightclub?

From research and studies, anywhere it could have gone wrong, it did! Some major things to look at from a security/management perspective which potentially could have changed everything that night which are still vital and very real for today’s door staff, are as follows;

  • Doors were locked from the inside with padlocks and chains.
  • Windows had bars which hampered escape.
  • It was evident that staff had no training or were prepared for such a tragedy.
  • Lighting failed
Bars fitted into windows at Stardust Nightclub 1981

1. This is simply not acceptable. Every fire exit should be visible and clear to escape. Whilst I fully understand the reason they were there, one would suggest hire more security and place them there to stop the odd person getting in for free or a drunk friend. Locks and chains, are and never will be acceptable.

2. This is a major point. If these bars were gone, would people still be alive? This is not an appropriate security measure for an occupied premises, especially with intoxicated patrons.

3. I refer to my point earlier where I state fighting the fire was the wrong thing to do. Even ‘trained’ fire wardens should not attempt this unless they personally feel it’s safe for them to do so. You do not understand fire, it is not your friend. Fire can get out of control in seconds. Your minute of firefighting could make it worse. Focus on getting your team and the public, OUT! Let the professionals put the fire out. In such circumstances like this, the main priority is evacuation. As door staff, you need to know where all the exits are, you need to practice your drills. You are not a firefighter! A 3hr course with 5minutes of playing with an extinguisher does not make you a firefighter. Just ensure your team and the public are out.

4. Lighting failed! It went black! Fear set in! Where were people going? They couldn’t see. It’s such an important part of evacuation & escape. People need guidance. You know the club! The drunk person doesn’t know their right from their left.

Bars fitted into windows at Stardust Nightclub, 1981.

Questions to ask yourself?

As a business owner or as door staff, I want you to ask yourself several questions. These questions will help you identify if you need to change current habits and upskill etc… before it’s too late.

  • Do I know anything about fire safety?
  • Have I been trained?
  • Do I know where all the exits are?
  • If a fire occurred, do I really know what I am doing?
  • Do we have a fire safety log?
  • Who is the fire safety manager?
  • I am the fire safety manager, what really is my job?
  • When was the last time we did an evacuation drill?
  • Do I carry out any fire inspections before the club opens?
  • Am I prepared???????

Gardaí and investigators at the Stardust after it was gutted by a fire.

What can we do to improve fire safety and ensure nobody gets left behind?

A few things you can do as a business owner or as door staff is as follows;

  • Appoint a fire safety manager, make sure someone who acts as a fire manager is present when the venue is operational.
  • Regular checks of doors, escape routes and electrical appliances etc…
  • Update the fire safety log
  • Put a fire evacuation strategy in place
  • Train staff and make them aware
  • Have a professional fire risk assessment conducted annually and as required
  • Have a professional fire safety management plan designed for your premises and actively update it. (Similar to a fire safety log, but not the same thing)
  • Ensure numbers in the club are the numbers stated on your license and not squeezing as many people in as possible. This number is calculated out for a reason.
  • Drill, Drill, Drill………

We can never prepare for the unknown, but we can be educated.

What fire safety measures can I take while on the Job?

What you as a door supervisor/security professional can do on the job that will ensure you are doing a better job than most! Some steps which can be taken are as follows;

  • Carry a torch. Vital piece of equipment.
  • Conduct a mini ‘mental note’ fire risk assessment.
  • Check doors and escape routes!
  • Make sure nothing is blocking exits, both inside AND outside!
  • Ensure lighting is in working order.
  • Smoke detectors work! Alarm system works! Test it!
  • Update the fire log.
  • Alert and report any possible issues to your manager.
  • Keep practicing the above!
  • Never take anything for granted!

Why should I be concerned with fire safety????

You should be concerned because the law says so! Depending on the country you live in, various laws have different requirements, however, the majority of the laws enforce the same principles. Get familiar with your local laws. 

Conclusions

The night of the Stardust tragedy, Ireland tragically lost 48 people. I can assure you, their loss was not in vain. My article can be interpreted in many ways but the most important message that I hope I have gotten across is that fire safety is a major concern and as security professionals either in a nightclub or in a store, you need to be aware of the very basics to ensure everyone remains safe.

We have come a long way in terms of fire safety, but we have a long way to go. It’s vital that fire safety management is implemented and is managed correctly. In Ireland, we adopt an attitude that a fire alarm is something that will turn off in a minute. We ignore it. I imagine many places do the same.  It’s vital you know how to respond upon hearing that alarm and your duties to the public in performing an evacuation. The public will panic and more than likely try to leave the way they came in! If that is not possible, you need to direct them to exits they are unaware of.

The bigger concern is venues which are in the middle of nowhere who are a law to themselves. It’s these venues where education needs to be pushed even more. So, as professionals, as door staff, as fire aware individuals, please keep preaching fire safety. Educate those who need it, help those who are unsure and let’s keep working together to create a safer environment for the public to enjoy their nightlife. Let’s work hard to ensure there is never a reoccurrence of Stardust. At the very least, let’s give those families something in that, we have learned at the cost of their tragic loss.

Remember, your decisions can be the difference in someone surviving or someone dying.

It’s important to keep educating yourself.  As the title says; It’s important to stay a step ahead, so nobody gets left behind. I genuinely mean that.

Message of thanks

Thank you to Rollo, Mike and the TPSO team for allowing me the opportunity to share a topic which I am so passionate about. As fire safety is something that needs more time and attention, I decided to set up @thefirebible to keep promoting and educating the world about fire. All support is truly appreciated. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Karl Harris BEng BSc(Hons) PgD(Fire) MIEI AIFireE

In October 2016, Karl graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from the Cork Institute of Technology. Following on from this, he completed the Construction Management BSc (Honours) Degree also at C.I.T graduating in October 2017.

Karl has a real passion for fire safety & fire engineering. He attended Trinity College Dublin (TCD), to complete the ‘Fire Safety Practice’ course. Successfully obtaining his postgraduate diploma, equipped him with the right skills to work in a highly specialised field. Karl succeeded in getting this course accredited with the Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE). It is the first fire safety IFE accredited course in the ROI.

Karl’s spent several years working in the security industry whilst completing his studies.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/karl-h13/

Email: Karlharris@outlook.ie

DISCLAIMER: This article/report is for reading and educational purposes only! It should not be referenced in any way in developing and implementing fire strategies or fire risk assessments. Always consult a professional qualified individual for your fire safety needs.