It had changed hands, sat vacant and been an off and on hot spot for several years until it was the primary club for top notch entertainment and high class amenities.
On May 28th, 1977, the place was packed with visitors that were expecting a night of glamor and star entertainer John Davidson. It is uncertain exactly how many patrons were in attendance that evening, but estimations put the number at approximately 3,000 at the entire facility with 1300 in the Cabaret Room. There were multiple events taking place in multiple rooms which were all filled to or over capacity, according to reports.
In the Cabaret Room alone, people were squeezed in and sat in aisles and ramps that would be exit pathways. Some of these ramps led to the stage and people were placed there in order to get as many people into the room as possible.
Smoke was first noticed in the Zebra Room by two waitresses sometime around 2100 hours. They noticed a dense smoke in the room and they notified management. The fire department was called within a few minutes and extinguishers were used on the fire with no effectiveness. Within 10 minutes, the fire had spread to the Cabaret Room and things would turn tragic very fast.
Here is quote from one of the first arriving firefighters about what he saw, “When I got to the inside doors, which is about 30 feet inside the building, I saw these big double doors, and people were stacked like cordwood. There were clear up to the top. They just kept diving out on each other trying to get out. I looked back over the pile of – it wasn’t dead people, there were dead and alive in that pile – and I went in and I just started to grab them two at a time and pull them off the stack, and drag them out…” , Bruce Rath, a Fort Thomas firefighter.
The results of this night were that 165 people lost their lives that night. The reports were not much different from the Cocoanut Grove fire some 30 years prior.
-Overcrowding of the facility, namely the Cabaret Room. The room had a listed occupancy load of 615 -756 people. That night, it was estimated that nearly 1300 people were in the room, almost double the allowed load.
-For the size of the facility Kentucky law required that there should have been at least 27.5 exits for the occupant load, there were only 16.5.
-The wiring was considered inadequate and it was stated that it would have never passed inspection by an electrician who inspected the electrical work.
-There were no fire walls to prohibit the spread of fire from one area to another.
-No sprinkler system and no audible fire alarm system.
-The local volunteer fire department acknowledged that there were issues, but had not ordered any of them to be corrected. (I was unable to find out if the department had fire or building codes ordinances at the time of the fire.)
-There were reports of locked doors.
These factors are all too familiar. We see the same failures in these large loss of life fires in assembly occupancies. We sometimes take our inspections and prevention activities lightly because it is not “fun” or interesting to some. Remember these fires and the lives that have been lost because of poor prevention measures and a lack of life safety measures in these buildings.
Below are some links where you can get more information and much of the sources for this post were from the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Until next time, stay safe, do your inspections with conviction and stay low.