Part 1 Fire Code Compliance



The City of Miami Beach Fire Prevention Division enforces the Florida Fire Prevention Code-2007 as adopted by the State of Florida.  The Florida Fire Prevention Code consists of NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code, and numerous other NFPA codes and standards. 

The nightclub owner is responsible for complying with all the requirements as stated in the Florida Fire Prevention Code.  Many of the deadly fires in recent history resulted due to one or several violations to fire code requirements.  Please see list of fires below.   

United States:

Rhythm Dance Hall, Nathez, MS April 23, 1940 207 dead
Cocoanut Nightclub, Boston, MA November 28, 1942    494 dead
Beverly Hills Supper Club, KY May 28, 1977 165 dead
Happy Land Social Club, Bronx, NY   March 25, 1990   87 dead
The Station Nightclub, Warwick, RI February 20, 2003 100 dead

Other countries:  

 Club Cinq, France   November 20, 1971 143 dead
 Alcaha 20 Disco, Spain December 17, 1983      81 dead
 Weierkang Club, Taiwan February 15, 1995   64 dead
 Ozone Disco Club, Phillipines March 18, 1996 160 dead
 Disco Dance Hall, Sweden October 28, 1998   63 dead
 Disco Dance Hall, China December 25, 2000 309 dead
 Cromagnon Club, Argentina December 30, 2004 194 dead
 Santika Pub, Thailand January 1, 2009   66 dead
 Lame Horse Nightclub, Russia             December 4, 2009 154 dead

In addition, there were 21 deaths when patrons rushed to one exit after a fight broke out inside the E2 nightclub in Chicago on February 17, 2003.  The club was overcrowded and had several code violations.

The nightclub owners and managers are responsible for fire safety in the establishment.  In the Station fire above, the band manager pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter under a plea bargain with prosecutors facing up to 10 years in prison.  Superior Court Judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years probation, for his role in setting off the fire.  The nightclub owners changed their pleas from “not guilty” to “no contest”.  One of the owners was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years probation.  The second nightclub owner received a 10-year suspended sentence, three years probation, and 500 hours of community service.

As of August 2008, nearly $175 million has been offered to the families of the victims of the fire by various defendants in settlement.

An assembly occupancy is generally defined as an occupancy used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement or similar uses.  Assembly occupancies might include the following: auditoriums, theatres, assembly halls, nightclubs, dance halls, drinking establishments, and exhibition halls among others.

Fire in assembly occupancies have shown to be some of the most deadly when the proper features, systems, and construction materials were not present.  Nightclubs, theaters and auditoriums differ from office buildings, for example, because they contain a large number of people in one main space.  NFPA code provisions mandate that a considerable number of safety systems and features be present in order to keep everyone safe should a fire occur.  The level of safety is achieved through the combination of multiple safeguards that are provided.

The NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code, is the primary source for the requirements for nightclub and bar lounges.  Committee of experts have developed many of these requirements in response to investigations and analysis of actual incidents.  The code book is divided into two chapters, Chapter 13 addresses requirements for existing assembly occupancies and Chapter 12 addresses requirements for new assembly occupancies (new is defined as newly constructed or renovated as of January 1, 2009).  If a nightclub is issued a certificate of occupancy as of January 1, 2009 and complied with the new chapter, the owner cannot change or lessen the requirements down to the requirements in Chapter 13.

The FFPC requirements are too many to list in this pamphlet.  However, the major items in Chapter 13 – Existing assembly occupancies are listed below.

  • Occupant load.  The occupant load is the number of persons for whom means of egress and other provisions are required.  This number cannot be exceeded for any reason.  See Part IV for more details.
  • Means of egress.   The means of egress consists of the path leading to the exit, the exit door or exit stair, and the path from the exit leading to the public street.  All means of egress components shall be in accordance with NFPA 101 Chapter 13 and Chapter 7.   The means of egress components include doors, stairs, handrails, guardrails, etc.    The main entrance capacity must be able to accommodate one-half of the total occupant load for existing and two-thirds for new nightclubs.
  • Number of exits.  Existing nightclubs must have at least two separate exits when occupant load is 600 or fewer.  More exits are required if the egress capacity is not met with two exits.  At least three separate exits are required when occupant load is more than 600 but fewer than 1000 people.   
  • Arrangement of exits.  The main entrance/exit shall be of sufficient clear width to be able to accommodate one-half of the total occupant load.  In new nightclubs, the main entrance shall accommodate two-thirds of the total occupant load.  The common path of travel and dead-end corridors are limited to certain distances.  Means of egress is not permitted through kitchens, storerooms, restrooms, closets, stages, or hazardous areas. The furniture layout plans showing  means of egress must be approved by the Fire Marshal’s office. 
  • Travel distance.  Exits must be located so that the travel distance from any point in the nightclub to the nearest exit cannot be more than 200 feet.
  • Discharge from exits.  The path leading from the exit door to the public way (street, public alley) shall be clear and unobstructed at all times.
  • Normal illumination.  The means of egress must have continuous illumination at all times that the nightclub is occupied.  The minimum illumination for floors and walking surfaces shall be at least 1 ft-candle (new stairs require 10 ft-candle). 
  • Emergency lighting.  Emergency lighting shall be provided for at least 90 minutes in the event of failure of normal lighting.  The emergency lighting system shall be arranged to provide the required illumination automatically due to failure of public utility, opening of circuit breaker or fuse, or manual acts.
  • Exit Signs.  All exit doors must have clearly visible, illuminated exit sign over the door or to the side of the door as indicated in the Code.  Directional signs may be required to direct occupants to the nearest exit.
  • Protection of Vertical openings.  All vertical openings must be enclosed or protected as indicated in the Code to prevent fire spread to other levels. 
  • Protection of Hazard.  Service equipment (boilers, large transformers, etc.), hazardous operations, storage rooms may require separation of at least fire resistance rating of 1 hour and/or  sprinkler protection.
  • Interior finish.  Interior wall and ceiling finish materials shall be Class A or Class B in general assembly areas. Any changes to the interior finish must be approved by the Fire Marshal’s Office.  Please see Part V of this series.
  • Fire Alarm System.  See Part II of this series.

  • Sprinkler System. See Part II of this series.

  • Operating features.  Several operating features are regulated by the Florida Fire Prevention Code, such as ignition sources, combustible materials, emergency plan, employee traning, etc.  For example, fire caused by so-called “controlled” fire are well documented; therefore, control of ignition sources is also of crucial importance such as pyrotechnics, open flame, and cooking.  Please see attached fire prevention standard prohibiting the use of pyrotechnics and open flame in nightclubs or similar venues.

Among all structure fires, nightclub fires in the US are proportionately few in number. However, maximum or over-capacity crowds at popular nightclubs create the potential for high numbers of casualties in the event of a fire or other incident.

A common safety violation at nightclubs is locked, blocked or impeded exits.  Management must make this a priority to ensure that the nightclub does not have this problem by inspecting all exit components prior to and routinely during operation.

The most common causes of fire at nightclubs and bars are incendiary, electrical, cooking, and smoking. Incendiary fires at nightclubs are nearly twice as frequent as those in all structures. (source U.S. Fire Administration/Nightclub Fire in 2000 )

The highest deaths and casualties are often caused by lack of sufficient exits.  Even if sufficient number of exits is provided, human nature is that most patrons will attempt to leave out of the same door in which they entered, rather than looking for other exits.  Therefore, the majority of the crowd may rush to the front entrance.  Sometimes the patrons become packed so tightly near the front door that the firefighters cannot enter.  In The Station nightclub, several people fell in a pile in the main doorway, trapping everyone behind them inside.