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Mar 29, 2021

Welcome to episode 3 of the Fire Code Tech solocast! On this episode, we dissect the Iroquois Theatre Fire, one of the highest loss of life incidents in the history of modern fires. We break down some of the pitfalls of this tragic event and discuss what led to these unfortunate circumstances.

If you enjoy these episodes, don’t forget to go check out the Patreon at where you can find two to thhree additional solocasts a month for the price of a cup of coffee!

Below I’ve included some of the sources I reviewed in preparation for the episode. I hope you enjoy!

Chicago Death Trap: The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903 By Nat Brandt:

Video Book Discussion:

Smithsonian Magazine Article:

Meyer Fire Blog Review:

Northwestern Law Article:



Hello. Welcome to the solo cast of fire code tech in these episodes. It's just gonna be me, your host, Gus Gagliardi. There's gonna be a range of topics, but I'm gonna talk about like specific technologies, installation standards, codes, and how they work as well as some other interesting topics that don't neatly fit inside of the context of a normal, I.

Hello wall. Welcome to the third episode of the solo cast with your host, Gus Gagliardi. On this episode, we're gonna be doing something a little different even for the solo casts on this episode of fire code tech, we're talking about the EOIs theater fire. Don't forget if you are enjoying these solo cast episodes, go check us out at code tech, where you can get an extra two to three of these episodes a month for the price of a cup of coffee.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot it is the one year anniversary of fire code tech wahoo. Just wanna say thank you to everybody who has been a fan and shared, you know, I definitely see the people who have been involved. And I just wanna say, I thank you so much. It means the world for me. And so, yeah, really excited have, uh, a huge white whale episode scheduled to come out the second week of April.

So excited for you guys to hear that. And really excited for what the year two of fire code tech is gonna bring. So, um, get ready, cuz it's gonna be awesome. So I hope you'll bear with me. I want to start doing these. Historic fire solo cast in order to provide a different source of content and kind of gauge the listeners, um, enjoyment of these historic fire podcasts.

I feel like fire and life safety is a profession that is built on tragedy. And you know, the code process is embroiled in kind of reacting to. Historic fires and significant traumatic events in cultural history and, you know, reacting and trying to build a safer world in. Response to these tragedies. So this is my attempt at highlighting some of the fires and disasters that have happened in history and that we have taken great pains to learn from.

And, you know, I, I always tell the story that, or, you know, the fact that in school, it is a. Fairly common practice to, you know, highlight some of these historic fires. To bring a light to, uh, what we've learned, how technology has changed, how the codes have changed. Um, you know, where we were, I wanna highlight where we were historically and where we are today with some of these changes.

And so. Yeah, really. I just wanted to diversify the fire and line safety content, cast a broad net with this, uh, idea of historic fires. And so let me know what you think. So episode one, I read a book called Chicago death trap, which is about the EOIs theater fire. The EOIs theater fire happened in 1903.

What makes this fire so significant is it's one of the most, uh, significant life loss fires in modern history. Over 600 people died in this fire. And when I start to talk about the errors in the fire and life safety systems, um, it's kind of like what didn't go wrong because it's a, just a comedy of errors and there's so much that.

Could have been done better. Another reason why I think that these fires are still relevant is there are some thematic trends in why the fire and I safety didn't get installed correctly. And they're still applicable today. The book I read Chicago death trap is by NA brand. I believe I'm saying that.

Right. But, so I enjoyed the book and I thought it was interesting as a fire and life safety professional, um, in the, in the book they have kind of as a through line at the beginning of each chapter, or, you know, Numerous chapters throughout the book, they'll have a little snippet of code where they will kind of talk about some of the fire and life safety requirements.

One of the really shocking things about this historic fire is that the building was touted as you know, uh, essentially being fireproof. The building was of non combustible construction. And so, and it had numerous fire and life safety features, including sprinklers, uh, fire protection, water storage, tank, smoke, and heat venting.

So. You know, to put a preface on this fire, the great Chicago fire had happened and really, you know, this, this fire and some other fires in this time period had really kind of, uh, more modernized the code. So it's not. To say that the codes and standards at the time were archaic, there were measures in place to kind of curtail the loss of life from fire.

Um, what's yeah. Some of the things that make this fire, so, um, relevant today is that the construction was rushed in order to provide. You know, in order to have the theaters open for the holiday season, the fire took place around the holidays. Most of the lives lost were women and children just due to the nature of the theater occupancy.

And so it's just, uh, beyond tragic that, you know, this building had all. These life safety features that just did not function because they were not maintained and installed properly. So yeah, the book talks a lot about. Kind of the times, you know, what's going on, the measures that were in place, um, for fire and life safety.

At the time, there was a quite extensive, um, fire service in Chicago at the time. And so fires were not an uncommon thing, especially for theaters in this day and age. And, you know, there were a couple of gruesome foreshadowing. Near miss events that the book goes over that kind of led up to this, this tragic, um, fire.

Now, one of the biggest lessons learned from this fire was the fact that the doors were locked during the yeah. Afternoon matinee. And so, you know, this was a huge factor in the loss of life. And so having these doors locked, the reason the doors were locked was to prevent people from sneaking in and out during the show.

And so in the panic of the fire, starting people fled and weren't able to evacuate and, you know, the power immediately went off. And so, you know, not only did you have the. The billowing smoke and the panic and, uh, and the, you know, the fear that ensued, but you had, um, people scrambling to get these doors open.

So the fire started due to an electrical spark. The way it's described is that. The electrical spark has started. And then there is a kind of back of house theater technician that is trying to put out this fire with a by carbonate, like substance kept in a pale. Um, you know, basically like, uh, I forget what it's called.

It has a funny name, but a basically fire extinguisher powder, like substance kept in a Pao. Uh, this brings up another fire in life safety system that didn't work during the fire. They had a fire curtain and it didn't activate. So, uh, yeah, so the fire kind of starts up in the rafters where the, the tech, you know, can get after it.

It's a, it's a spotlight. And so, but he's unable to put out this fire with the bicarbonate substance. And so. yeah, it's, it's pretty astonishing. Um, one of the other HES in the fire protection system was that the fire sprinklers and the standpipe systems were not connected to the fire protection water storage tank.

Um, it's. Unspeakable to think about that this building could have passed inspections and, you know, gone through code enforcement to basically get their certificate of occupancy. I'll go over some of the, you know, litigation components and, uh, you know, how this was assessed after the fact. But, um, there was very minimal more.

Ability for the, you know, the city to pin this on the architect or the, you know, kind of companies that were involved in the construction of this building. Um, due to the, just the way that it was structured at the time, the, uh, liability. and so, yeah, this was a really significant loss of life, life incident.

They had just, um, bodies stacked in the street, approximately like 600, 2, 603, and the formal account. The book really focuses on some of the accounts from people who were in the fire or associated with the fire. Really could have probably lived without those personally, maybe they would interest others.

So that's one note as a, as a code nerd, I was really more interested in the code excerpts and, and how, um, things things changed or, you know, what wasn't followed and the book did cover that comprehensively, but, uh, obviously they needed to also. Get the emotion of the individuals who were trapped in the fire to paint a picture of this event.

Also, they had some really interesting pictures of the facility and a floor plan. Maybe I can find a way to put that in the show notes. So that's it for episode three of the solo cast. If you want to hear more about that EOIs theater. You can go check out the Patreon or you can take a look in the show notes and see all the resources that I've linked there.

Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on fire code tech. Thanks for listening. Everybody. Be sure to share the episode with a friend, if you enjoyed it, don't forget that fire protection and life safety is serious business. The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are by no means a professional consultation or a codes and standards interpretation.

Be sure to contact a licensed professional. If you are getting involved with fire protection and or life safety. Thanks again. And we'll see you next time.