Sometimes, it seems like we live in an overly regulated era. Everywhere you look, you see warning signs or caution labels. The nightly news carries stories about rules that will affect how we eat, drive, work, or play. It may seem at times that we are moving toward becoming a “nanny state,” and perhaps in some ways we are. However, when it comes to building code compliance, the price we pay is tiny compared to the gains society has made over the last several decades. Today’s homes and businesses are far safer than those built only a few years ago. Thousands of lives have been spared because of the new emphasis on safety, and using green construction materials is helping millions live healthier lives.
It’s easy to forget these things, which is why it makes sense to remember some of the unfortunate things that have happened in the past, due to purposeful violations of safety regulations. So here’s a look at three tragedies that could have been prevented by following local building codes.
Charleston, SC – 2008
On June 8th, a fire started at the Sofa Super Store, a popular furniture discounter. The blaze swallowed several adjoining buildings before it was extinguished, but battling it claimed the lives of nine Charleston firefighters. It was the worst loss of fire department employees since 9/11. Also, it was directly due to ignoring the city’s building and fire codes. Among the countless violations were these:
- The original building was erected in the 1990s, without the builders first obtaining the required permits or submitting to safety inspections during construction.
- No sprinklers were located anywhere in the structure.
- Combustible materials were stored close to employee smoking areas.
- The fire spread to the showroom only because an unsafe loading dock enclosure had been erected without fire department permission or knowledge.
- The fire would have been much less severe if flammable liquids had not been stored near the loading dock; a clear violation of city codes.
- The firefighter’s deaths were directly linked to the lack of properly maintained exits – yet another code violation.
In short, this senseless tragedy could have been avoided had the business’ owners complied with Charleston’s existing codes when building the structure.
December 2010, Chicago
Three days before Christmas, firefighters arrived at the location of the Sing Way Laundry. Two of them died before the blaze was contained. A later investigation showed that the structure’s owner had been cited numerous times for lack of building code compliance, yet had done nothing to correct the problems. These included:
- A collapsing roof due to decaying trusses. In fact, it was the poor condition of the trusses that caused the building to collapse on the two men who died that day.
- A leak in the boiler, which had been brought to the owner’s attention but never repaired.
- Leaving the building vacant for an extended period of time without notifying city officials.
In total, the building’s owner had been cited for 47 separate violations of Chicago’s building codes, yet he never acted to correct any of them. Had he done so, the lives of two firefighters might have been spared.
February 2003 – Rhode Island
The 1990s glam rock band Great White was performing at a nightclub called the Station in West Warwick on February 20th, when a pyrotechnics display that was part of the show got out of hand. As flames began to spread, the crowd of several hundred panicked and headed for the four exits all at once, effectively jamming most of the attendees inside the building. In the tragedy that followed, 100 people died and 230 suffered injuries. Brian Butler, a cameraman for a local TV station, was on the scene. He later gave the following account of what happened:
“At first, there was no panic. Everybody just kind of turned. Most people still just stood there. In the other rooms, the smoke hadn’t gotten to them, the flame wasn’t that bad, they didn’t think anything of it. Well, I guess once we all started to turn toward the door, and we got bottle-necked into the front door, people just kept pushing, and eventually everyone popped out of the door, including myself.
That’s when I turned back. I went around back. There was no one coming out the back door anymore. I kicked out a side window to try to get people out of there. One guy did crawl out. I went back around the front again, and that’s when you saw people stacked on top of each other, trying to get out of the front door. And by then, the black smoke was pouring out over their heads.”
Four days later a memorial service was held for the victims of the fire. Thousands turned out to mourn them and to show support for the families and friends.
A later investigation determined that the resulting damage and loss of life could have been greatly reduced had the club’s owners, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, complied with regulations requiring that the club have an overhead sprinkler system. The pair pleaded “no contest” to charges brought against them several months later. One received a 15-year sentence, the other was given 10 years. Many or all of these events might have been avoided, had building code compliance been enforced.
Don’t try to dodge the building codes. Let us help you comply with them.
In light of tragedies like the three we just looked at, it becomes clear why building and fire codes exist. Obeying them is crucial for everyone’s safety. Here at Burnham Nationwide, we can help you do just that by advising you about every aspect of the building permit process, including zoning variances, dealing with city officials, and ensuring that your structure passes every inspection. So don’t take chances; give us a call.