Posted on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Each year, the Madison Fire Department performs 25,000 inspections across the city to maintain fire code compliance in public buildings and multi-unit residential properties.
The question some may ask is, “Why?”
Inspections are the primary tool Fire Prevention Officers use to prevent injuries and loss of life, to prevent people from losing everything they own in a flash of heat and smoke, and to prevent our firefighters from unnecessarily risking their lives.
January 13 is the 110th anniversary of the Rhoads Opera House Fire in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. That night, 170 people perished trying to escape a fire that started from a kerosene lamp that fell over, a death toll that exceeds the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that occurred in New York City three years later.
The stage and auditorium were on the second floor of the brick building. None of the exits were marked or lit. The two fire escapes, both at the front, were connected to locked windows with high sills.
There were almost 400 people in the space that night to watch a presentation of the Scottish Reformation. Capacity of the space was less than half that number.
During intermission, the theater troupe had a new projectionist using a state-of-the-art “stereopticon,” which used a flammable gas as well as oxygen. The new projectionist mistakenly released gas into the air instead of oxygen, and when the hissing startled another employee, they knocked over the kerosene lamp.
Within 15 minutes, 170 were dead and over 75 more were critically injured. The Boyertown Fire Department responded, and despite heroic efforts to quell the fire and rescue more people, the interior of the building burned to the ground, and firefighter John Graver was killed during the operation, marking the 171st fatality of the night.
Several things contributed to the loss of life:
- Narrow and unlit main staircase
- Unmarked exits and exit paths
- Locked exit doors
- Doors that opened inward instead of outward
- Only two fire escapes
Theater fires were very common at the turn of the 20th century, with over 50% of the those constructed in the 19th century catching fire within 10 years of being built. Just a few short years earlier, the Iroquois Theater Fire in Chicago had claimed over 600 lives, for many of the same reasons.
With the pressure mounting, new laws and codes were passed. In 1909, Act 206 required fireproof booths for projectors and stereopticons, even specifying the materials, size, flooring, ventilation, shelving, and wiring required for all projection booths.
Two days later, Governor Edwin Stuart of Pennsylvania signed Act 233, which required easily accessible and visibly marked fire escapes, more than one exit from second floors, and doors that opened outward and remained unlocked in all theaters, public halls, and lodges with more than two stories. Subsequent legislation required panic bars installed inside all exits, fire resistant projection booths with two people on duty at all times, and properly marked exit signs at doors and fire escapes.
As we start a new year, we ask business and property owners in our community to take a fresh look at their properties.
- Are your exits clearly labeled?
- Are all doors free from obstruction?
- Do you have working smoke alarms in the proper places?
- Do you have automatic sprinkler systems?
Check out our list of Ten Common Fire Code Violations and make sure they don’t apply to you!
Fire Code Enforcement Officer Jerry McMullen authored this post.
Subscribe to Email List
- Meet Firefighter Dontrell McIntyre
- Meet Firefighter Michael Sepulveda
- Meet Firefighter Allie Feys
- Meet Firefighter Chelsea Utzerath
- Meet Firefighter Heather Seeber
- Meet Firefighter Devin Rogers
- Meet Firefighter Jessie Bowden
- Meet Firefighter Seth Dahmen
- Meet Firefighter Josh Popanz
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Liss
- Meet Firefighter Lexi Wagner
- Meet Firefighter Julie Griessmeyer
- Meet Firefighter Jay Watson
- Meet Recruit Class 8!
- Rick Mulhern, Leader In Technical Rescue and Peer Support, Retires From MFD
- Burn Awareness Week: About UW Hospital's Burn Center
- Burn Awareness Week: Identifying and Treating Burns
- Burn Awareness Week: Sunburn and Frostbite
- Burn Awareness Week: Home Oxygen Safety
- Burn Awareness Week: Preventing Cooking-Related Scalds and Burns
- Meet Firefighter Brennan Boughton
- Meet Firefighter Mike Lothe
- Meet Firefighter Mitch Hanson
- Meet Firefighter Sam Coenen
- Meet Firefighter Marshall Angst
- Meet Firefighter Brandon Courts
- Meet Firefighter Grahm Yahn
- Meet Firefighter Tom Shannon
- Meet Firefighter Joe Parrillo
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Dostalek
- MFD Introduces Recruit Class 7!
- MFD's Community Education Division Teaches Kids To BE AWARE
- LEARN Two Ways Out Of Every Room
- LISTEN For The Sound Of The Smoke Alarm
- LOOK: Fire Hazards May Lurk In Your Home
- First Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride Raises Over $14,000 For Scholarship Fund
- Meet Lieutenant Zak Smith
- Meet Lieutenant Eric Mills
- We Send Our Condolences To Sun Prairie Today
- Meet Lieutenant Liza Tatar
- Meet Lieutenant David Crossen II
- Four New Lieutenants Assume Position At Area Fire Stations
- National EMS Memorial Bike Ride Pays A Visit To Station 4
- Engine 10 Helps Reunite Mama Duck With Four Stranded Ducklings
- Home Fire Sprinklers: A Small Investment That Could Save Your Life
- New Aerial Platform Ladder Truck Hits The Road On Madison's West Side
- Show Us Your Smarts: Take the Home Fire Sprinkler Quiz!
- Fire Sprinkler Protection: See the Difference!
- Hiding In Plain Sight: Choosing Concealed Fire Sprinklers
- The Truth About Home Fire Sprinklers
- Seconds Matters: How Home Fire Sprinklers Save Lives
- Meet Firefighter Michael Samosky
- Meet Firefighter Nickolas George
- Meet Firefighter Desmond Leidich
- Meet Firefighter Kyle Kampmeier
- Meet Firefighter Jonathan Clinkscale
- Meet Firefighter John Clooten
- Meet Firefighter McKinnan Stamschror
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Raisbeck
- Meet Firefighter Daniel Ramirez
- Meet Firefighter Brett Bower
- Meet Firefighter Bryce Powell
- Meet Firefighter Daniel Congdon
- Meet Firefighter Larry Moen
- Meet Firefighter Charles Campbell
- Meet Firefighter Casey Endres
- Meet Firefighter Benjamin Nevarez
- Recruit Class 6 Reports For Duty
- New Solar Panels Installed At Fire Station 12
- Fire Prevention Week: Fire Prevention Quiz
- Fire Prevention Week: Easy-To-See House Numbers Help Us Find You Faster!
- Fire Prevention Week: Practice Your Escape Plan!
- Fire Prevention Week: How To Make A Home Fire Escape Plan
- Fire Prevention Week: Every Second Counts -- Know 2 Ways Out!
- Now Accepting Firefighter Applications!
- CampHERO for Women Coming Up Saturday!
- A 'Thank You' Note To Our Partners On Stratton Way
- Madison Launches 'PulsePoint Verified Responder' Pilot Program
- Meet Lieutenant Jeffery Vogen
- Meet Lieutenant Chris Hammes
- Meet Lieutenant Wes Ecker
- Meet Lieutenant Chris Carbon
- Meet Lieutenant Linnea Anderson
- Meet Lieutenant Dan Williams
- MFD Introduces Six New Lieutenants!
- Upcoming Community Events!
- ER Docs Dive Into Firefighting During 'Doc Ops Day'
- MFD Lends Helping Hand At Gilbert Brown Football Camp
- Special Delivery: “Beltline Jax” Makes A Grand Entrance
- New Lease On Life: Oregon Man Reconnects With Crew That Helped Save Him
- 235 New Smoke Alarms Move Into Sherman Terrace!
- Captain Todd Steyer Wraps Up A Fulfilling 30-Year Career With MFD
- Calling All Volunteers! CampHERO Kicks Off Its 6th Season
- EMS Q&A: Where can I learn CPR?
- EMS Q&A: Did you know MFD paramedics are also firefighters?
- EMS Q&A: What should I expect after calling for an ambulance?
- EMS Q&A: What’s the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic? How many paramedics are on duty?
- EMS Q&A: Why does a fire truck come when I call for an ambulance?
- Meet Firefighter Maj-Britt Williams
- Meet Firefighter Adam Thimmig
- Meet Firefighter Ruth Savard
- Meet Firefighter Mike Reisman
- Meet Firefighter Trent Meicher
- Meet Firefighter Jonathon McCray
- Meet Firefighter Adam Lesser
- Meet Firefighter Patrick Johnson
- Meet Firefighter Kyle Homan
- Meet Firefighter Joe Gangler
- Meet Firefighter Justin Fehrenbach
- Meet Firefighter Matthew Dykstra
- Meet Firefighter Brandon Douglas
- Meet Firefighter Tamara Dinkel
- Meet Firefighter Marta Darrow
- Meet Firefighter Davy Calkins
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Beckwith
- MFD Introduces 18 New Firefighters!
- A Greener Firehouse: How Fire Station 12 LEEDs the Way
- Meet AE Brad Vogen
- Meet AE Vince Soto
- Meet AE Chad Powell
- Meet AE Daniel Pazurek
- Meet AE Todd Mahoney
- Meet Apparatus Engineer Cole Christenson
- Meet AE Derek Brown
- New Apparatus Engineers Now Serving In Your Neighborhood!
- Dane County EMS Banquet Honors Survivors, Responders Involved In Cardiac Saves
- On This Day In History: The First 911 Call Is Placed In 1968
- PHOTOS: Getting Up Close With The Lake Rescue Team
- Sable Flames "Second Alarm" Benefit Enters Its 24th Year
- Madison's Iranian Community Comes Together To Honor Firefighters
- Building Connections, Inspiring Kids: Engine 12 At Olson Elementary School
- Welcome Home: Cooper's Hawk Returns To Willy Street
- The Results Are In: 91 Donations Collected During the “Never Forget” Blood Drive
- Meet AE Ethan Dade
- Meet AE Wade Raddatz
- Meet AE Lance Radock
- Meet AE Jacob Conner
- Meet AE Dan Smith
- Meet AE Kevin Hembrook
- National Preparedness Month: Special Needs Disaster Planning
- Meet AE Tom Winter
- Meet AE Lori Karst
- MFD Introduces Eight New Apparatus Engineers
- Reflections On This 15th Anniversary Of 9/11
- Generous Grant Brings New "Jaws Of Life" Equipment To Ladder 6
- National Preparedness Month: Creating Communication and Evacuation Plans
- National Preparedness Month: Don't Wait. Communicate.
- Project SOAR and the MFD
- “Doc Ops Day” Gives ER Docs A Taste Of Firefighter Life
- Two Years After Accident, Family And First Responders Celebrate 'A Miracle'
- Madison Fire Aims To Keep Injuries Well Under Par At PGA Championships
- “It’s Been A Great Ride," Says Retiring Driver John Lucille
- A Thank-You Gift For All To Enjoy
- “Friday Nights At the Y” Returns In 2016
- Meet Lt. Lisa Becher
- Meet Lt. Derek Teff
- Meet Lt. Casey Preimesberger
- Resources For Candidates Preparing For the Physical Ability Test
- Meet Lt. Sue Juedes
- Meet Lt. Ted Higgins
- Meet Lt. Matthew Mialik
- Meet Lt. Michael McCartney
- MFD Introduces Seven New Lieutenants
- Inside The Galaxie: Making Madison's Newest High Rise Safer For All
- Edgewood Students Donate Stuffed Animals For Kids Experiencing Trauma
- Apparatus Engineer "Recon Bob" Says Goodbye After 25 Years Of Service
- New Boat Enhances MFD Lake Rescue Capabilities
- With Gratitude, Division Chief Ron Schwenn Bids Farewell To the MFD
- New Training Technology Aims to Offer Full Immersion, Minus the Risks
- In the Midst Of Transitions, Our Crews Don't Miss A Beat
- Finance Manager Rita Johnson Retires After 44 Years With the City
- Farewell to West District Captain Tom Reiter
- Meet Firefighter Caluster Buie
- Meet Firefighter Steven Foulks
- Meet Firefighter Richard Miyagawa
- Meet Firefighter Joshua Balli
- Meet Firefighter Matthew Boyle
- Meet Firefighter Oscar Castillo
- Meet Firefighter David Bartkowiak
- Meet Firefighter Christopher Staveness
- Meet Firefighter Michael Guerten
- Meet Firefighter Marcus Bobholz
- Meet Firefighter Joshua Ramsey
- Meet Firefighter Michael Olson
- Meet Firefighter Eric Popovich
- Meet Firefighter Paul Schecklman
- Meet Firefighter Brian Tremain
- Meet Firefighter Cameron Gasaway
- Meet Firefighter Vaughn Brockel
- Why We Do What We Do: Remembering the Our Lady of the Angels Fire
- Meet Firefighter Brian Bieganski
- Farewell To AASPIRE Intern Casey Tubbs
- Meet Lt. Tim Hagen
- Meet Lt. Jeff Mast
- Meet Lt. Matt Thomas
- Meet Lt. AJ Greenlee
- Meet Lt. Chris Homman
- Join The Team Current News
- MFD Introduces Five New Lieutenants
- Saving Santa at Station 3
- MFD Mailbag: Kudos For the Crew of Engine 7A
- Madison Fire Recruit Class 4 Begins
- MFD Begins Serving Towns of Blooming Grove, Burke Today
- The Madison Fire Department Prepares For Inaugural "Shake the Lake" Event
- The Heavy Urban Rescue Team Practices Life-Saving Skills
- Safety Saturday 2015: A Day In Photos
- Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Boss Lift
- Firefighter Fun Day 2015 is Saturday, August 8
- Retired Firefighter Tim Healy Inducted Into Madison Sports Hall Of Fame
- Firefighter Ty Stebbins Sworn In
Emergency Medical Services
- 100 Black Men of Madison
- A Day In The Life Of A Madison Firefighter
- Alix Olson Award
- Awards & Recognition
- Battle Of the Badges
- Black History Month
- Burn Awareness Week
- CARE Program
- Central Storage Warehouse fire
- Community Outreach
- Dane County Public Safety Communications
- Emergency Operation Center
- Fire Academy
- Fire Admin Project
- Fire Hydrants
- Fire Prevention Division
- fire prevention month
- Fire Prevention Week
- Fire Safety School Tours
- Fire Stations
- Firefighter Fun Day
- Friday Nights at the Y
- Hazmat Team
- Heavy Urban Rescue Team
- Hiring & Promotions
- Home Fire Sprinklers
- Ice Safety
- Join the Team
- Lake Rescue Team
- Madison Fire EMS
- Madison Police
- Meet the MFD
- MFD Behind the Scenes
- MFD Frequently Asked Questions
- MFD Mailbag
- MFD Prevention Division
- National Preparedness Month
- Our Lady Of the Angels
- public health
- Public Safety
- Rural Water Movement
- Sable Flames
- Safety Town
- Shake the Lake
- The American Center
- Town of Blooming Grove
- Town of Burke
- Training & Professional Development
- UW Health
- Veterans Day
- Wanda Fullmore Youth Internship Program
- Winter Safety