Fire Safety in Night Clubs and Places of Assembly:  

  1. Information for Inspectors and/or Managers
  2. Information on Crowd Managers
  3. Information for the Public


I have been handed “evacuation plans” for a Place of Assembly that consisted of a map showing an outline of the establishment with arrows pointing to the exits.  I always thought that it should include a lot more information.  Others agree.  According to the NFPA Life Safety Code (NFPA 101, 2009) and the International Fire Code (ICC, IFC 2009) it should include a map but it should also include descriptions of actions that staff should take in an emergency, a descritpion of all fire safety features and any other information needed to train employees in a manner that creates a safe facility.

Fire Safety Plan

A “Fire Safety Plan” could be defined as a written collection of policies and procedures which when implemented and maintained will satisfy the legal obligations of the owner, outline specific duties and responsibilities and provide training for owners and employees on actions to be taken in the event of a fire or panic.  However, a Fire Safety Plan will only be effective if it is practiced.  When completed a copy of the plan should be kept in the building in an approved location. It is imperative to test your plan in controlled situations. This helps the staff to gain confidence and learn what is expected of them.

Employees must be prepared to direct and assist occupants in the event of a fire or other emergency.  Patrons of assembly occupancies are generally unfamiliar with the physical arrangement of the structure.  Lighting conditions, or the attraction itself, often complicate the life safety problem by disorienting occupants.  Many portions of these occupancies, which may be part of the egress system during emergencies, are frequently unavailable to occupants for normal use.  Some of the nation’s most tragic fires have occurred in assembly occupancies.  Studies of these fires have found that during emergencies these physical factors, in addition to the loose social structure and absence of group leadership, may conspire to create extremely dangerous situations.  To prevent dangerous and incorrect responses produced under emergency conditions from controlling assembly evacuation situations, employees must be prepared to seize control, directing the evacuation and assisting occupants to safety.

Egress Plan

An “Egress Plan” could be defined as a plan showing the occupant load, seating diagram and location of exits and aisles.  This egress plan should be submitted to the local code official, and an approved copy shall be kept on the premises. Each floor of the building should have a basic floor plan.  Indicate the location of all fire exits (do NOT use elevators), stairs, fire escapes, possible escape routes, circuit breaker boxes, mechanical shut-offs, first aid supplies, fire extinguishers, manual pull stations, and emergency equipment.  Post the floor plan throughout the building, and distribute to all employees. 

Assign a meeting place. This outside location should be at a distance from the building, far enough away to keep individuals out of the way of fire fighting activities and away from smoke, fire, falling glass, and debris.


Any Plan is only effective if the employees “buy into it.”  Effective ways of introducing employees to a new Emergency Operations Plan is through staff meeting, new employees orientations, and building newsletters.  In an emergency situation, employees must rely upon their own knowledge and disciplined response practices and procedures to ensure their personal safety.  Visitors to the building will in turn rely upon the guidance provided by these employees.

At a minimum employees should be familiar with the Egress Plan so that they can keep the appropriate aisles and egress paths clear.  They should also be familiar with the fire protection features that are installed, particularly any information on sprinklers and alarms. Information should also include how to evacuate the building, pull fire alarms, and secure area if deemed necessary and notifying 911. 

Useful links

Sample Inspection Form from the NFPA

Inspection Form suggested by Massachusetts State Fire Marshal

Inspection Form suggested by Vermont State Fire Marshal

Check off list from the Dallas Texas Fire Dept.



Need for Crowd Management and Crowd Managers

After the Station Nightclub Tragedy in Rhode Island the State of Massachusetts formed a task force to look at fire safety in Places of Assembly. 

One of their recommendations was the following:

The subcommittee also endorses the idea of designating a position of Crowd Manager in bars, nightclubs, dancehalls and discotheques with occupancies of 50 or more. This person, employed by the business owner, assumes responsibility for checking the operational condition of all exits, fire extinguishers, egress routes and other fire-related systems and methods throughout the building.  The Crowd Manager will then have a mandatory check list to fill out, indicating that each fire safety requirement has been met and checked prior to the start of business each day. Training personnel for this position should be a condition of obtaining a Certificate of Inspection or liquor license, it should be easily executed and made available to a wide-range of employees.”

After a recent tragedy at a Wal-Mart on Long Island, NY, one news story noted the following.

“Attorney Jordan Hecht, who represents Damour's three sisters, said the family declined to make any public statements about the man's death. Funeral arrangements were pending, he said. Hecht said Damour had been working at the Wal-Mart only for about a week and was hired through an employment agency that provides temporary staffing. Damour had not been trained for any security assignments and had no background in crowd control, he said.”

In both of these situations OSHA issues violations for inadequate training of employees.

Here is a quote from OSHA’s Wal-Mart Press Release.

OSHA's inspection found that the store's employees were exposed to being crushed by the crowd due to the store's failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management principles. This failure includes providing employees with the necessary training and tools to safely manage the large crowd of shoppers.”

Here is a quote from OSHA’s Station Nightclub Press Release.

“Six serious citations were issued to Derco for covering walls and an exit door with highly flammable foam; having an exit door indistinguishable from the walls due to the foam covering; no written emergency action plan; no written fire prevention plan; failing to designate and train employees to assist the evacuation of other employees; and failing to review fire hazards with employees.”


Code References to Crowd Management and Crowd Managers

In the past, local, state and national codes have had requirements for Places of Assembly.  It has become obvious after these and other tragedies that putting requirements in the code is not enough.  The codes must mandate that someone be on site to insure that the requirements will be complied with.  Here are some reference showing how some code officials have tried to deal with this issue.

The 2006 edition of NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code, states the following.* Crowd Managers. Assembly occupancies shall be provided with a minimum of one trained crowd manager or crowd manager supervisor. Where the occupant load exceeds 250, additional trained crowd managers or crowd manager supervisors shall be provided at a ratio of 1 crowd manager or crowd manager supervisor for every 250 occupants, unless otherwise permitted by the following:

(1) This requirement shall not apply to assembly occupancies used exclusively for religious worship with an occupant load not exceeding 2000.
(2) The ratio of trained crowd managers to occupants shall be permitted to be reduced where, in the opinion of the AHJ, the existence of an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system and the nature of the event warrant. [101:; 101:] The crowd manager shall receive approved training in crowd management techniques. [101:; 101:]

In Massachusetts the Board of Fire Prevention Regulations (527CMR) states the following.

10.13 (d) Designation of a Crowd Manager.  Effective July, 1, 2009, the owner or operator of the business or activity located in a Place of Assembly classified as an A-2 use group under 780CMR, the State Building Code, shall designate a crowd manager.

The crowd manager shall be at least 21 years of age, shall be the owner operator of the business or shall be under the direct control and supervision of said owner or operator.  The crowd manager shall be responsible for the following:

  1. maintaining clear exits, assuring that there is no overcrowding, initiating a fire alarm, if necessary, directing occupants to exits; and
  2. general fire and life safety awareness of employees and occupants, including assuring that exit announcements are made in accordance with 527 CMR 10.13(2)(c); and
  3. Accurately completing the safety plan checklist required by 527 CMR 10.13(2)(e). awareness

Note: at the time that this wording was passed the Massachusetts State building Code defined A-2 Occupancies in the following manner.

303.3 Use Group A-2 structures: This use group shall include all buildings and places of public assembly, without theatrical stage accessories, designed for occupancy as dance halls, nightclubs and for similar purposes, including all rooms, lobbies and other spaces connected thereto with a common means of egress and entrance.

Need for Owners and Operators to be More Responsible for Fire Safety

It is obvious that in Places of Assembly, and even in other occupancies, that attract large crowds, employers must insure that their staff is aware of what to do to control crowds in emergency situations.  They must also know how to manage crowds to prevent emergency situations.  More than ever there, is a need for trained crowd managers to insure that employees are aware of their responsibilities and that the facility is maintained in a safe manner.  With cutbacks in local government there is almost always a reduced inspection and advisory capability within the local fire and building departments.  Employers must be more pro-active in maintaining a safe facility, in order to protect their employees and the public.



Public Should Act as Inspectors

When I was the Fire Marshal of the City of Boston, it always amazed when one of my inspectors uncovered a serious violation that it had not been previously reported by a patron.  Does it take a firefighter to realize that an exit is blocked by plowed snow in the parking lot?  Does it take an inspector to notice that club is dangerously overcrowded, to the point that movement from one part to another is difficult?  To a great extent patrons using commons sense and a willingness to report concerns to the local fire department can protect their own lives.

Here are some tips for ensuring your personal safety when entering a building in which large numbers of people are gathered.

Before You Enter

Take a good look around the exterior. Does the building appear to be in a condition that makes you feel comfortable?  Does the main entrance allow easy exiting?  Do any exit doors lead to narrow alleys or fire escapes that might be poorly maintained?

When You Enter

Locate all the available exits. Are they clearly marked and well lit? Some exits may be in front and some in back of you. Some may be down corridors that are not obvious from every area.  Always be prepared to use the exit closest to you, as you may not be able to use the main exit.

Check for clear exit paths.  Make sure aisles in between the tables are wide enough and not obstructed or blocked. (This is one of the most common violations that I used to observe.)  If the waiter or waitress has trouble getting to your table, how will you be able to get out in a rush?

Do you feel safe?  Does the building appear to be overcrowded? Are there fire
sources such as candles burning, pyrotechnics, or other heat sources that may make you feel unsafe?  (Candles should be on stable base, to prevent tipping, and the flame should be protected, so that it cannot ignite sleeves or other fabric.)  Are there safety systems in place such as sprinklers, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers?

During an Emergency

React immediately.  If an alarms sounds, or you see any indication of smoke or fire, immediately exit the building in a calm and orderly fashion. Use your closest exit, even if it is not the main exit. Once you have escaped, stay out and move away from the building.  This allows others to exit safely and firefighters to enter.

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