The Evolution of Fire Safety Laws

There are so many fire safety laws that now exist in locations across the country, both on local and federal levels. Many fire codes were put into place in the wake of deadly fires that taught cities a lot about how they needed to design their structures and what types of fire safety code updates would need to be implemented and regulated.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the most influential fires in our nation’s history and some of the specific impacts they had on fire safety that still play a role in building codes and local laws in San Francisco, CA today:

  • The Great Chicago Fire of 1871: This is far and away the most famous and influential fire in American history. It resulted in 300 deaths and claimed thousands of structures, resulting in miles of damage and millions in losses. It started in a barn on a dry October night and spread rapidly through a serious of wooden structures in the city that were generally unregulated. After the fire occurred, there was massive political upheaval in the city, and brand-new building efforts that resulted in a huge population boom. As a result of the fire, the city council banned wooden building materials and required flame-resistant materials, which had a national ripple effect in construction trends. The skyscrapers in Chicago were just one result of those new fire-resistant construction standards. It was soon discovered that fireproof iron and steel buildings would be able to stand taller, withstand more heat and comply with all building codes.
  • The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911: New York City had a major fire of its own 40 years after the Great Chicago Fire. This one started in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company’s factory in Manhattan. At the time, metal window frames and stone floors were only mandated for buildings that had 11 or more stories, and this particular building only had 10 stories. Between the flammable materials, the practice workers had of tossing scrap fabrics on the floor (resulting in thousands of pounds of rags lying around) and numerous locked doors on the property to prevent theft, there was a massive fire risk. There were 147 deaths, and the result was the country’s very first fire prevention bureau that would revolutionize fire safety standards in urban areas.
  • Ohio State Penitentiary Fire of 1930: The Ohio State Penitentiary had widely been considered “fireproof,” but while it was undergoing renovations in 1930, a simple candle caught it on fire. Leftover oily rags plus wooden scaffolding resulted in the building turning into a tinder box. Meanwhile, guards refused to let some prisoners out of their cells, and 320 of the 4,300 inmates died. The state immediately began to overhaul prison and fire safety recommendations after this, and overcrowding concerns also led to the establishment of the Ohio Parole Board and major prison reforms.

These are just three examples of how major fires resulted in massive safety overhauls in the United States. For more information about changes to fire safety in San Francisco, CA and beyond, contact Great Escape Fire Escape Service today.

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