This past weekend there was a horrific fire in Oakland, just across the bay from our home in San Francisco. The fire was in a creative warehouse space called Ghost Ship, during a party. At this writing 36 people were killed, with that number expected to rise. We didn’t personally know any of the people who died, but I have many, many friends who do. My husband’s bands have played in plenty of warehouse spaces like that one. A common refrain in my circle is that ten years or so ago, we could well have been at that party.
Early reports about the space described it as full of junk, cluttered. But then I saw the pictures, and while those words are accurate, they don’t capture the space. It was beautiful, full of brown wood, warm lighting, and fascinating little details for the eye to fall on. It had a lot in common with a good tiki bar. I would have loved it, I would have felt at home there.
The event has led me to think about fire safety a bit more in my own home space. It’s not a new thought, San Francisco lives in a constant shadow of the great earthquake and resulting fire of 1906. We don’t pack the house with people, the room’s walls are treated with a fire retardant, I have a thoughtfully placed high-end smoke detector that I check regularly, I have a fire extinguisher at the ready, the candles are all fake, and despite my having the power of man’s red flower, I never, ever, ever use fire in drinks in our home tiki bar. The only fire we’ve had in our bar was our menorah for a Hanukkah party, and I kept an eagle eye on that and quickly doused the candles and matches in water.
But I know now that I can, and need to, do more. My thoughts about what-we-would-do-if-there-were-a-fire have been centered on our little family of three, but handling egress in an emergency with a house full of people who don’t know the layout is an entirely different feat. I know that there are three exits from the tiki bar, but my guests do not: the space is disorienting by design.
I’ll be making some simple changes for fire safety with this in mind. The primary exit from the room is a sliding glass door to the outside; we’ll now be leaving that door unlocked during the duration of parties so that it can immediately be opened. I’ll be widening pathways to the exits. I’m buying more fire extinguishers. I’m going to take a cue from hotel rooms, and hang a map of the space on the back of the bathroom door, showing paths to the exits and placement of fire extinguishers, so guests can become familiar with the layout. I’m going to apply more fire retardant. I’m going to add lighted signs that say “EXIT.”
Commercial bar spaces are held to important fire safety regulations, and while those rules don’t apply in our private homes, as host we have an obligation to our guests to make sure they’re safe. It’s worth thinking about those commercial regulations, and consider if your own fire safety plans will hold up when your home is full of people. This article, “A Guide to Fire Safety in Industrial Spaces” by Gui Cavalcanti, is a great starting point.
From Jamie Wilson, owner of CheekyTiki, UK-based builder of commercial tiki interiors:
Fire retardant spray is the best things for mattings but does not work that well on bamboo. A fire retardant varnish will work better.
Also remember that it tends to sit on surface of the material, so no cleaning. And finally, re- apply every couple of years.
From reader Nora Lockshin:
You might also add a reminder to check over vintage lamps/appliances’ cords at least annually to check over the condition of wiring, that you have grounded plugs where needed, and update outlets to GFI interrupters near water sources. I just noted a week ago that lamp that I rewired (not within recent memory) had rotted shielding on the wire.
Here’s another one, gathered from my Fire Safety colleagues at work: Did you know smoke alarms should be replaced on a 10 year cycle? The upside to that is that now I have a new one with a built-in CO detector too. Some codes require it if you’re renting, but for homeowners….here’s a nice guide you can point to. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/co-and-smoke-alarms/buying-guide.htm