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Learning from historic fires

Listen as Gordon Graham details the benefits of learning from the past and how firefighters can implement those lessons in their communities

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. And Today’s Tip is for my friends in the fire service, and I’d like to talk about learning from the past.

Don’t disregard these lessons just because you don’t have large nightclubs, manufacturing, refineries, or casinos in your response area. Often, what went wrong can just as easily happen in the convenience store, bar and grill, grocery store, auto repair shop, townhouse complex, or community center in your town.

Take a look at historic nightclub fires like Cocoanut Grove and The Station. They all have common elements: Means of egress problems, flammable decorations, and lack of built-in fire protection features, leading to hundreds of civilian deaths. Look for these same elements in your local chain restaurant or bar.

Study fires that led to structural collapse, such as Hotel Vendome, Waldbaum’s Supermarket, and Hackensack Ford. Each of these events killed multiple firefighters because of undocumented structural changes and bowstring trusses. These are features likely found in your response area, especially in older, renovated buildings.

And always remember that the fire code doesn’t eliminate conditions like insufficient exit capacity, locked doors, and lack of working sprinklers. The Our Lady of Angels School and Triangle Shirtwaist fires resulted in sweeping fire code updates to address high-risk issues, but the conditions still exist. It’s up to you to find the violations and enforce the codes.

Now’s the time to start building lessons learned from historic fires into your planning, training, code enforcement, policy development, and operations. With effective risk management, we are definitely not doomed to repeat the past.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.