Wednesday, January 30, 2013

People refuse to learn...

The recent nightclub fire tragedy in Brazil drew inevitable comparisons to similar tragedies, including the fire at "The Station" in Rhode Island a decade ago.  That particular one hit home for me in a number of ways. I had spent four years in the state while going to URI and Warwick was not too far away (nothing really is in Rhode Island).  Being an "older" student, i.e. in my mid-twenties, my friends there where either grad students or people in the real world in their twenties and thirties who lived there year - round and didn't lead the the typical undergrad life. Long story short we often had to find ways to entertain ourselves and sometimes that meant going to one of the many small clubs for the locals in the area.  I never went to or even heard of the Station before the fire, and certainly wasn't a fan of Great White, but I can imagine a group of us going there just for a laugh for lack of anything else to do.  In this day and age you would think that one could go for some mindless fun with a reasonable expectation of safety but that was not the case. And Rhode Island is in New England, an area where public safety and regulation is not looked down like it is in the South or ignored like I noticed it was in the Northwest.

What makes it worst was the fact that anyone New Englander with two working neurons should have heard of the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, especially a club owner and local fire inspectors. The Cocoanut Grove is internationally infamous and is even more applicable to the Brazil fire.  Maybe twenty years ago the owners and officials in Brazil could be excused for not considering the lessons of a fire on another continent 50 years prior, but with worldwide news coverage and the internet and the immediate international notoriety of the Station fire and others there is none today. Sadly, the Boston Historical Society's account of the Cocoanut Grove seems to have called it,
The lessons of the Cocoanut Grove are with us every day. Exits blocked or locked, smoking and use of matches, overcrowding, flammable materials within buildings and a lack of sprinklers and smoke detectors. Hardly a person in Boston or New England during the 1940's could be found who did not have a friend or relative who wasn't at the Grove that night, or had planned to go, or had left before the fire started, or wasn't affected by this tragedy. The question then and now is: "Can this happen again"? The answer is yes, it can and will happen again.

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