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Historic Fires That Led to Changes in the Fire Code

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Running head: HISTORIC FIRES THAT LED TO CHANGES IN THE FIRE CODE
Historic Fires That Led to Changes in the Fire Code
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HISTORIC FIRES THAT LED TO CHANGES IN THE FIRE CODE
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Historic Fires That Led to Changes in the Fire Code
Introduction
Fire is one of the greatest breakthroughs made by humans in the Paleolithic period. Since
its introduction, people have depended on fire for both existence and survival. Fire is essential
when it is controlled, but when it is uncontrolled, fire can yield terrible events. Between the 19th
and 21st century, people witnessed some of the greatest cities in the world crumbling down due
to the effects of uncontrolled fires. The downside of such events is that they cause massive loss
of properties and lives. On the positive side, they led to modern civilization. Notably, the
construction and fire safety codes exist due to calamitous events that showed people how
structures ought to be built. In this paper, two fires that helped to improve the fire code and
safety will be evaluated. These are the Great Chicago (1871) and Iroquois Theater (1903) fires.
The Great Chicago Fire
In October 1871, Chicago experienced a fire tragedy that led to the demise of over 300
people (Wordpress.com, 2017). Also, the event rendered about 100,000 individuals homeless.
Prior to this tragic event, Chicago’s population was increasing exponentially. In 1837, the
population of the city was 4,000. In 1850 and 1871, the population rose to 30,000 and 330,000
respectively (U-S-history.com, 2017). Due to the rising population, the city became the fourthlargest city in the U.S., and many expected it to become a key international cultural scene.
However, the increase in population was happening without planning. Some brick-andmortar structures were erected to facilitate office practices while others were built of inferior
materials to accommodate the influx of immigrants. For instance, timber and wood were used to
construct some houses, sidewalks, and streets. On 8 October 1871, it is believed that a cow hit a
Running head: HISTORIC FIRES THAT LED TO CHANGES IN THE FIRE CODE
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kerosene lantern and started at Patrick and Catherine O’Leary’s barn (U-S-history.com, 2017).
Due to high winds and nature of the materials used to set up structures, the fire spread to spread
to other parts of the city and lasted for two days. After the flame subsided, it was established
that the fire had spread over three square miles and properties worth $200 million were destroyed
during this event. Regressively, most of these properties were uninsured. Nevertheless, since
most transport infrastructures (rails and roads) were left undamaged, the city residents received
aid from various parts of the United States.
In spite of such devastating effects, most people regard this event as transformative. It led
to what scholars refer to as the great rebuilding. Many changes were initiated during this time.
First, the safety rules were strengthened. Second, Chicago’s department of fire initiated policies
that require buildings to be made of flame-resistant materials such as stones, limestone, brick,
and terracotta among others (Wordpress.com, 2017). The Palmer hotels become the first fireresistant building in the city. The skyscrapers in made of steel frames in Chicago city are a
product of modern fire safety and regulations in the city. The materials used in their
constructions are fireproof. Notably, the iron industry devised ways of making flameproof iron
columns and steel frames that can withstand extreme heat. Thus, the industry can produce
construction materials that can satisfy the City Council’s codes as well as meet their clients’
standards.
The Iroquois Theater Fire
Chicago is one of the cities that are prone to fire events. Three decades after
experiencing the Great Chicago fire incidence, the city suffered another deadly tragedy. One of
its luxurious theaters (Iroquois Theater) caught fire. During this event, 600 people were trapped
HISTORIC FIRES THAT LED TO CHANGES IN THE FIRE CODE
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inside the theater while it was ablaze (Secter, 2017). These events motivated both the federal and
state governments to initiate codes that influence public places. To date, these codes are used in
theaters, hospitality venues and other places that serve the entertainment function.
On December 30, 1903, a five-year-old Iroquois Theater experienced a heartbreaking fire
tragedy. The structure was built adhering to the city’s safety standards implying that it was
fireproof. During a performance, a spark of light caused fabric on the stage to catch fire. At first,
the audience did not notice but after the blazing material dropped on stage both the performers
and the audience were pacing for safety. The theater has 30 exit doors. However, only three
could be accessed since the other 27 were blocked with fabrics or other means (Secter, 2017).
The audiences were in awe and majority of them could not vacate the venue. As a result, they
were trapped in a hall filled with smoke and heat. About 600 people were killed during this
traumatic event.
After this tragedy, the city initiated many reforms. First, it introduced panic bars to make
sure that emergency exit doors were accessible in times of danger. Second, a policy requiring
theaters, hospitality avenues and entertainment halls adhere to their seating capacities was
enforced. Third, ventilation codes were changed to curb fireballs and build up of smoke in such
venues. Lastly, many regulations were set to ensure that structures were faced for humans. For
instance, theaters should have easy to open doors, clear pathways, and a properly marked exit
(Secter, 2017).
Conclusion
Fire can have numerous benefits if it is controlled. An uncontrolled fire has devastating
effects. It can lead to unnecessary demises and loss of valuable assets. Nevertheless, humans
Running head: HISTORIC FIRES THAT LED TO CHANGES IN THE FIRE CODE
have been exploring on the cause of such events to develop new regulations that would improve
the quality of buildings. The Great Chicago and Iroquois Theater fire incidences, for instance,
have been used to emphasize the need to have fireproof buildings and emergency exit places.
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References
Secter, B. (2017). The Iroquois Theater fire. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved on 25th September 2017
from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodaysiroquoisfire-story-story.html
U-S-history.com (2017). The Great Chicago Fire. United States History. Retrieved on 25th
September 2017 from http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1854.html
Wordpress.com. (2017). History of Innovation; 1871: The Great Chicago-Fire Codes. Word
press. Retrieved on 25th September 2017 from
https://aehistory.wordpress.com/1871/10/07/1871-the-great-chicago-fire/
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