Cocoanut Grove Fire
The Hiller Instinct: Cocoanut Grove Fire
There's a plaque now at the scene of the Cocoanut Grove fire and this morning someone came and added a rose and this note, "To the victims of the Rhode Island night club fire, our thoughts and prayers are with your loved ones."
In just twelve minutes on November 29, 1942, 492 people died and 200 more were injured in the in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, which was packed that night to twice its capacity with nearly a thousand people. A busboy's match started the blaze that had Boston City Hospital admitting one patient every eleven seconds.
Dr. Erwin f. Hirsch, Boston Medical Center
"Sixty years later, to have something like this happen, assuming what we hear on the news is correct, is just absolutely unacceptable... period."
Dr. Erwin Hirsch is director of trauma services at Boston Medical Center. Today he showed me a memento of the hospital's role after Cocoanut Grove.
Dr. Erwin f. Hirsch
"The interesting part given what's happened today... This person here (on plaque) Dr Charles Lund was responsible for developing a formula in which we estimate the size of a burn wound in a patient... and that formula developed in 1942 and 1943 still is used today, exactly in the same way it was used 60 years ago."
The Cocoanut Grove fire triggered other new medical treatments for burns, skin grafts and plastic surgery. And grief counseling was conceived. Cocoanut Grove also produced fire safety reforms, including laws requiring emergency exit lights and signs, occupant capacity standards and unlocked exit doors.
Ten people were indicted and one went to jail in connection with the Cocoanut Grove fire and a veteran Boston lawyer analyzing the Rhode Island fire for 7News says that could happen there too.
J. Albert Johnson, Attorney
"There certainly is ample evidence, based on what the video itself showed, to show this certainly was negligence. Whether it amounts to criminal negligence or not, I do not know."
Given Cocoanut Grove, Rhode Island didn't have to happen. "The tragedy," says the executive director of the international association of fire chiefs, "is that there's nothing new." But try telling that to the families and friends of those whose lives just ended... Or the survivors whose lives were changed forever.