The Cocoanut Grove Fire
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2007
As an organization that is always trying to create a safer environment, we often find that the best opportunities to make progress grow out of some of the worst tragedies. There is no better example of this than The Cocoanut Grove fire that is written about in this issue of Journal.
Sixty-five years ago, on November 28, 1942, the fire at
That fire created the opportunity for NFPA to lead the way to major reforms in fire safety that have had a lasting effect throughout the
One of the biggest advances was a change in the definition of places of public assembly. Before the Cocoanut Grove fire, many jurisdictions did not consider restaurants and nightclubs to be places of public assembly and so they did not see how dangerous they could be. After Cocoanut Grove, there was a new awareness of the particular dangers when fire occurs in any crowded place where there are inadequate exits.
At the time of the fire, Robert Moulton, NFPA’s Technical Secretary and the secretary of the NFPA Committee on Safety to Life, said in a newspaper interview: “The most glaring feature of this tragedy was the lack of proper exits. Revolving doors have long been considered by the National Fire Protection Association Committee on Safety to Life as a menace under fire and panic conditions.”
At the 1945 NFPA Annual Meeting the Committee on Safety to Life recommended a change in the method of exit measurement, clarification of the need for stairway enclosure, provisions regulating loose chairs in nightclubs, and changes in lighting and signs. Those changes were incorporated into the 1946 edition of the Code, as was a special note on interior finish.
Today, it is recognized that all assembly occupancies should have at least two separate and remote means of egress, and the necessary number, width, and types of reliable exits based on the expected occupancy should be available.
In addition to the technical changes that were brought forth from Cocoanut Grove, that experience showed how important it is for NFPA to publicize the details of how the tragedies occur. NFPA issued to its membership a twenty-page illustrated report with an analysis of the factors involved in the fire and suggested ways that other Cocoanut Groves could be prevented. There were those, including the Attorney General of Massachusetts, who did not want that report distributed, but NFPA put it out anyway and the story of the Cocoanut Grove fire became a great catalyst for change in fire safety in the
It is important that we remember tragedies like the Cocoanut Grove fire and those who were killed and injured on that horrible night in