Sunday, January 07, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 5, 6, and 7

Sorry for the light posting... still dealing with a multitude of technological challenges at 618Rants World HQ: had to locate a replacement AC adapter for the laptop (thank you, Radio Shack), still trying to figure out enough Linux to get Mrs 618's computer working (hey, I learned in the days of DOS 3.3), and/or trying to get the old Windows box (which runs Win98) fired up.


Jan 5: A fire at a Texaco plant in Erath, LA, caused $51 million in damages (loss adjusted to 2003 dollars by NFPA). Another one where I couldn't find too much info. On the other hand, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out a fire at a facility refining petroleum-based products has the potential to get real bad, real fast. At least no one was killed.

Jan 6: A fire at the Thomas Hotel in San Francisco killed 20 in 1961. While researching this one, I ran across a page that lists many of the significant hotel/motel fires around the world. In my piece on the Dupont Plaza Hotel fire, I listed some tips from a USA Today article on a hotel fire in NYC; Today, I found a memo from the Australian FAA with fire safety tips to flight attendants at Qantas (as an aside, Qantas has long been known as the only major airline that has never had a fatal crash; these folks take safety real seriously)(1). The points made bear repeating:

  • Fire Escape Plan Once you know your room, check all the exists available on the floor.
  • Fire Alarm Installations Ensure you know were the fire alarm installations on your floor are.
  • Fire Extinguisher/Fire Hose Reel Make sure you know the location of that type of equipment, and how to access and operate it.
  • Evacuate immediately and close all doors behind you. Leave the building immediately via the exit staircase.
  • Fire Alarm If you hear the fire alarm, and you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately via the nearest exit staircase.
  • Do not try to take your personal effects with you or attempt to pack your things.
  • Do not use the elevators for evacuation.
  • If you are caught in your room, inform the hotel telephone operator, go to the window and signal people below.
  • Should you encounter thick smoke entering your room, take wet towels or sheets and put them against the door to prevent smoke entering your room.
  • Should you encounter thick smoke whilst trying to leave, get on to the floor and crawl to escape.
  • Do not jump out of the building (higher floors) as rescue might not be far away.

Jan 7: A 1950 fire at the Mercy Hospital in Davenport, IA, killed 41. I couldn't locate too much on this one either (doing research while on dial-up really sucks), but I can make a few guesses, based on other health-care facility fires through the years:
  • Lack of automatic sprinklers: as I have noted before, virtually every fire investigator, fire protection engineer, and safety professional points out that fire sprinklers are the most cost-effective fire protection mechanism there is.
  • Perhaps a delayed response, while hospital staff attempted to extinguish the fire themselves; as noted with the DuPont Plaza, a delay can be -- and often is -- fatal.
  • Involvement of piped oxygen and other medical gases: depending on the cause and origin of the fire -- and again, I was unable to find the info -- medical gases may have played a role. Oxygen is incredibly flammable, which is one reason why smoking hasn't been permitted in patient rooms for years. On a related note...
  • Smoking in a patient room: this has caused numerous health-care facility fires, although usually in nursing homes, where the residents try to sneak a smoke indoors now and then.
(1) For a somewhat light-hearted view of the maintenance issues that Qantas mechanics have dealt with, see here.

1 comment:

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