Fire Prevention 52: Staying Safe in Large Group Settings–"Occupancy Assembly"

flames of the night club fire news screenshot

Always Locate Fire Exits

Nine years ago this week the rock band Great White played a concert and set the place on fire with a pyrotechnics display, killing 100 people. . . because they couldn't get out of the building!

Just like the concert venue, NPS has many similar buildings, such as visitor center theaters, large dining facilities, large meeting rooms, and auditoriums, where large numbers of people not familiar with the building gather.

If you go into buildings where large numbers of people gather or you have one of these facilities in your park, then this message is for you!

"Assembly occupancy" is a fire code term used to describe buildings where 50 or more people gather in one place. Of all of the different types of buildings, assembly occupancies have the highest potential for loss of life attributed to not being able to see or access fire exits, locked or blocked doorways, and unfamiliarity with the building.

Often assembly occupancies include drapes, decorations, pyrotechnic displays, or theatrical sets that add to the amount of flammable material in the building.

Fire Info for You

Nightclubs and other public gathering places have inherent dangers. Click here to read more about how to be safe in these buildings.

Park Leadership

  • Having an assembly occupancy in your park increases your responsibilities and liabilities. The owners of the Station Nightclub were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and held liable for civil penalties for their part in the fire. Learn more.
  • Use your experts in the regional office to help determine if you are meeting fire codes.

National/Regional Leadership

  • One of the contributing factors to the Station Nightclub fire deaths was a fire inspector who failed to do his job properly. He allowed the occupant load to double and never made mention of the use of flammable acoustic foam in his inspection reports.
  • As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure our employees are trained to do their jobs and to follow up and ensure they are doing it right.
  • Could we use a similar strategy with law enforcement rangers and safety personnel?

Take Action

  1. If you work in a building with a public assembly space, as you walk around, look for exits that are visibly or physically blocked. If you find one, immediately notify your supervisor.
  2. Watch this video of the Station Nightclub Fire. It graphically shows what can go wrong when fire codes are not strictly followed.
  3. Take it home: Every time you enter an assembly space, look around to find exits other than the one you came in.

NPS Fire Facts

In 1862 Fords Theatre in Washington, D.C., was completely destroyed by fire. In 1971 the Filene Center, a 7,000-seat theater at Wolf Trap National Park, was destroyed by fire just before it was scheduled to open. It burned to the ground again in 1982.

Last updated: December 1, 2016