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Cocoanut Grove: Examining an American Tragedy
As a Failure of Fire Prevention Policy and Practice
Andres Velasco
Eastern Kentucky University

This paper was prepared for FSE 101 Fire Prevention, taught by Professor Sobaski. Cocoanut Grove: Examining an American Tragedy
as a Failure of Fire Prevention Policy and Practice
On November 28, 1942, approximately 1000 people packed into three main rooms of a two-level nightclub at 17 Piedmont Street in Boston, Massachusetts. The Cocoanut Grove club was one of New England’s premier nightclubs, located just outside the theater district on the edge of Bay Village, one of the city’s oldest historical neighborhoods. “At the time the Coconut Grove was the largest and most popular nightspot of its type in the city of Boston and was referred to as ‘the poor man’s Ritz’”(Cunningham, 2003). The tragic fire which swept through this building turned a dreamy fall night on the town into a nightmare for the victims of the fire, the survivors, and the collective consciousness of a city which has never forgotten this terrible event. What will be examined in this paper is how the Cocoanut Grove fire was a perfect storm of negative interacting factors and an example of a catastrophic failure of fire prevention policy and practice.

Scope of the Tragedy
Nearly half of the revelers who were in attendance at the party on Piedmont Street lost their lives that night, and at least 170 more were seriously injured. The official death toll grew to 492 in the days and weeks that followed, which marks the Cocoanut Grove incident as the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. “All of the 492 dead had been identified 89 hours and 40 minutes after the alarm was sounded at 10:20 p.m. on Saturday (Turner & Tuite, 2012, p.G3).” In this country only the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903 claimed more victims in a single-building fire. At the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, 602 perished, “most of...
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