Tragic “Ghost Ship” Oakland Warehouse Fire Shows Need for Stronger Life Safety Code Violation Enforcement

Another tragic fire at a large public gathering reminds us that life/fire safety issues can not be mitigated by laws alone. A horrific fire at the Oakland warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship” has led to the deaths of at least 36 people. The warehouse was used as a residence and art studio for many of the victims as well as a party venue. The building was zoned and coded ONLY for commercial use. In fact, there was a history of code violations. There are laws regarding zoning and life safety that were knowingly violated by the tenants at the Oakland warehouse. Life safety rules are designed to keep the public safe. Rules like keeping egress paths cleared, illuminated, and marked are basic life safety codes in modern society. Strict enforcement at the “Ghost Ship” may have led to fewer deaths or even prevented the tragedy. Complaints were lodged about the warehouse, but the wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly. Now, the District Attorney’s Office has launched a criminal investigation into the incident.

 

Our blog posting of February 4, 2013 “Surviving a Nightclub Fire” offers some advice about how to 1) avoid or 2) increase chances of surviving such an event. It also offers guidance for building owners/managers.

Surviving a Nightclub Fire

As the recent tragedy at the Kiss Nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil demonstrates, public fire safety continues to remain a serious problem. Any time you mix large crowds of semi-intoxicated people with low levels of lighting, minimal exits, and add smoke and fire, the result is always tragic.

 

In North America there have been several notable nightclub fires:

*Learn more about historical fires in the United States in our State by State Fire FAQs.

After fire analysis has repeatedly noted the importance of well-lit and uncluttered exit pathways, and show that the majority of deaths are usually due to smoke inhalation or trampling. Victims could have survived if they had been able to quickly and safely exit the structure.

 

The Exit Light Company reminds everyone that the sole purpose for the products that we sell (exit signs and emergency lights) is to save lives, not property. Here are some helpful tips for both patrons and business owners:

 

If you are a Patron:

  • Use common sense, don’t patronize businesses in buildings that do not look safe. Some warning signs are that the building does not have a sprinkler system, exit signs or emergency lights are broken and non-functional, or if you see that most of the exit doors are blocked or even locked (chained shut)
  • Be aware of the location of at least two exits at all times (the first being the one that you entered through)
  • Never drink so much that you will not be able to react to an emergency situation
  • If you are caught up in a crowd, it doesn’t matter if you are large and strong, try to get to a wall or to the edge of the crowd. Many deaths are dues to trample injuries
  • Try to stay low, to minimize smoke inhalation
  • If possible, cover your nose and mouth with a cloth. Use your shirt, jacket, or a napkin, if available. If you can, wet the cloth with water. Never use alcohol to wet the cloth, as alcohol is highly flammable
  • Don’t worry about your stuff (purse, backpack, etc.). It’s replaceable, you’re not
  • If you are in a group, agree on an assembly point, somewhere you can all get to safely, then don’t worry too much about keeping together
  • Move safely, and try not to trample/push others, but leave as quickly as possible
  • Stay as calm as possible, and do not give in to panic. This is easier said than done, but panicking will not help you survive

If you are a Business Owner/Facilities Manager:

  • Keep exits and exit paths clear of clutter
  • ALL doors should open outwards so that the crush of a crowd can not pin the doors closed
  • Install and maintain exit signs and exit pathway markings so that the direction of egress is readily apparent
  • Install and maintain emergency lighting so that in the event of loss of power, there will be visibility
  • Keep all emergency equipment (including exit doors) in good working order and test them regularly

*Find out more about maintenance & testing in our helpful FAQs.

Unfortunately, the Kiss Nightclub Fire will not be the last club fire, but if we all keep in mind the above safety tips, we can make sure that we do not contribute to another tragic event or do not end up as another sad statistic.

How to Buy an Exit Sign

Confused? We’ve Got You Covered!

 

Our customers’ needs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are replacing an old exit sign, some are putting up fire exit signs where none existed before and some still haven’t finished construction on the building! No matter what situation brought you here, it can be overwhelming to sort through the selection of exit signs available.

 

First things first: Have you consulted your local building inspector or fire marshal? Even if you’ve never been inspected before, conforming with local building and fire codes is mandatory. Therefore understanding local building and fire codes will prove to be invaluable. Check out our Fire Exit Codes & Regulations section. Consider the following questions:

 

Are there any color or materials requirements my exit signs have to meet?

Certain locales require that exit signs have red lettering, others require green lettering, others allow either but may require consistency within a facility (all green or all red). Some locales require that exit signs be enclosed in steel enclosures, other allow fire-retardant plastic, etc. The City of Chicago require steel exit signs with a glass face. The New York City requires that exit signs have 8” red lettering and be enclosed in durable steel housing. Make sure you are not subject to some of these very limiting requirements.

How many and/or in what areas are exit signs required?

General requirements state that any exit be marked accordingly, but some codes require marking of the “route” to get to the exit as well.

Is there a particular certification my signs need to carry?

The most widely used certification agency in the United States is Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), but some areas require ETL SEMKO certification or other certifications that are more specific. Canada requires a certification from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

Are there certain types of units that are prohibited?

Some codes require that your units be hardwired (eliminating power-free choices) or a certain color/material (see question 1).

Once you have gathered the above information from your local authority, it is time for you to make some decisions of your own:

 

Do I have a particular look in mind?

Your local codes may not require it, but perhaps a brushed cast-aluminum sign with lettering fits best with your décor. Maybe you’ve seen an edge lit sign in your favorite store and liked the look, it’s up to you!

Do I have size constraints and/or how do I plan to mount my units?

This question alone may limit your selection to only a few items. Remember that certain mounting configurations may require the use of a mounting canopy that adds 1-2” to the height or width of your sign.
 
This question also encompasses limitations such as a sheet rock, drop or low ceiling.

Will these units be subject to abuse or hazardous environments?

In areas such as schools, gyms, warehouses and parking structures, exits signs may be subject to vandalism, damage from sports equipment and other types of situations which would limit your selection to heavy duty construction or protection such as a wire guard.
 
If installing in areas where the units will be exposed to chemicals, abrasive substances or other hazardous materials, your selection should be limited to units “rated” or qualified for installation in these environments.

By now you will have gathered enough information to narrow your choices to maybe even just one unit! If you are having trouble navigating our site – feel free to contact one of our award winning customer service professionals via phone, email or live chat with your requirements and we will be happy to assist you.

What is the real purpose behind lighted LED exit signs?

Power outages occur in businesses, educational and medical facilities across the country every day. Are you prepared for such an emergency? Many people think that the sole purpose of an exit sign is to mark stairwells and building exits. However, that is only a secondary purpose for lighted LED exit signs.

 

Image of lighted red LED exit signThe real function of lighted LED exit signs is to allow you to find the exit or emergency egress route in the event of an emergency situation. Many times a power outage can be the result of a fire in the building. In such cases, finding the emergency exits can be complicated not only by a loss of power but from the presence of smoke in emergency egress routes. Under these circumstances, lighted exits signs powered by rechargeable backup batteries can literally save lives by allowing individuals to safely exit the building.

 

Most relevant codes (fire, building, health or safety) require exit signs to be permanently lit. The use of light-emitting diode (LED) technology provides brighter illumination than incandescent lamps, resulting in better visibility in a fire situation. LED exit signs also consume much less energy than traditional incandescent models, typically requiring about 4 watts of power to operate. This results in significant cost savings over the life span of the fixture, especially considering that LEDs have a very long life and may last for 10 or more years of continuous use.