This article was originally posted on our old blog on Dec 5, 2008. It has been updated to reflect changes since that time.
137 years ago today, fire struck the Brooklyn Theatre in Brooklyn, NY during a performance of The Two Orphans. 295 people, including children, were killed just minutes before the show should have ended (the Brooklyn Daily Eagle no longer has this article posted -Dec 5, 2013).
Since there was no hydrant or hose in the Brooklyn Theater that night of Dec. 5, 1876, anxious stagehands were compelled to use their coats and hands to stifle the blaze. One ran to the waterbuckets, usually filled each night before performances and set along a wall for just such emergencies. They were empty. He returned with a pole and tried to beat out the flames, but this only fanned them higher.
“Fire!” yelled one of the 900 spectators in the theater, jumping from his seat.
Actor H.S. Murdoch, playing the part of a disabled man named Pierre, suddenly dashed to the front of the stage. “Now, now,” he soothed, “none of that.”
Another actor, J.B. Studley, stepped forward and announced, “There is a small flame, but it will be put out. Please stay calm and keep your seats.”
December is Theatre Fire Safety Month. Every year I encourage you to double check all the fire safety codes that pertain to the venues you work in, and make sure that they are being followed. Following the fire codes is YOUR responsibility.
Laws and new equipment are all well and good, but only if they are followed and installed correctly. Your theatre personnel also need to know what to do in case of an alarm or fire. If the alarms go off, but no-one checks to see if the audience is exiting, then we have failed in our duty as hosts to protect them as our guests.
It is your responsibility to ensure that the fire codes in your theatre are being followed. Make sure you attempt to correct any known violations or dangerous conditions, and if you are unable to do so, report them to your supervisor. If your supervisor does not deal with the problem, go over his or her head. It is never “someone else’s” responsibility to ensure audience safety: it is EVERYONE’s responsibility.
Additional information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Theater_Fire