Thursday, December 30, 2010


The deadly balance between profits and oversight.

Iroquois Theatre fire

"The Iroquois Theatre fire occurred on December 30, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois. It is the deadliest theater fire and the deadliest single-building fire in United States history. At least 602 people died as a result of the fire but not all the deaths were reported."

"Despite being billed as "Absolutely Fireproof" in advertisements and playbills, numerous deficiencies in fire readiness were apparent. An editor of Fireproof Magazine had toured the building during construction and had noted "the absence of an intake, or stage draft shaft; the exposed reinforcement of the (proscenium) arch; the presence of wood trim on everything and the inadequate provision of exits." A Chicago Fire Department captain who made an unofficial tour of the theatre days before the official opening noted that there were no extinguishers, sprinklers, alarms, telephones, or water connections; the only firefighting equipment available were six canisters of a dry chemical called "Kilfyre", which was normally used to douse residential chimney fires.
The captain pointed out the deficiencies to the theatre's fire warden but was told that nothing could be done, as the fire warden would simply be dismissed if he brought the matter up with the syndicate of owners. When the captain reported the matter to his commanding officer, he was again told that nothing could be done, as the theatre already had a fire warden."

"At about 3:15 P.M., late in the second act, a dance number was in progress when an arc light shorted and ignited a muslin curtain."

"By this time, many of the patrons on all levels were quickly attempting to exit the theatre. Some had located the fire exits hidden behind draperies on the north side of the building, but found that they could not open the unfamiliar bascule locks. One door was opened by a man who had a bascule lock in his home and two were opened either by brute force or by a blast of air, but most of the other doors could not be opened. Some patrons panicked, crushing or trampling others in a desperate attempt to escape the fire. Some perished while trapped in dead ends or while attempting to open "doors" that were in reality windows designed to look like doors."

"Those in the orchestra section were able to exit into the foyer and out the front door, but those in the dress circle and gallery who escaped the fireball were unable to reach the foyer because the iron grates that barred the stairways were still in place. The largest death toll was at the base of these stairways, where hundreds of people were trampled, crushed, or asphyxiated.
Patrons who were able to escape via the emergency exits on the north side found themselves on the unfinished
fire escapes. Many jumped or fell from the icy, narrow fire escapes; the bodies of the first jumpers broke the falls of those who followed them."


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