The Great Chicago Fire. Allegedly ignited by Catherine O’Leary’s cow in 1871, the fire started on October 10 on the southwest side of Chicago. Burning for a total of three days, the city of Chicago lost 300 citizens and 17,000 structures, with total damages estimated at the time to be roughly $200 million, or approximately $3 billion in today’s adjusted dollars. However, it was another little known, but equally devastating, fire in Chicago 32 years later that would change the course of life safety and occupancy protection forever.
The Iroquois Theatre opened its West Randolph Street doors near the Loop shopping district to the public on November 27, 1903. Designed in an opulent Renaissance style with a guest capacity of over 1,600 seats, the luxurious theatre had been deemed “fireproof beyond all doubt” by the city building commissioner. Catering to well-to-do Chicagoans, Smithsonian magazine noted in a 2018 historical review of the theatre that Mr. Bluebeard, the first featured show on the Iroquois playbill, “was a spectacular production fit for a rapidly growing and increasing prominent city.”
Three days later, on December 30, 1903, a fire broke out in the theatre during an afternoon matinee performance. A spark from a stage light ignited scenery drapery backstage, an area cluttered with wooden stage props and oily rags. Subsequent attempts to lower a “fireproof,” flame-retardant curtain to contain the growing blaze failed. The rapidly intensifying fire lasted just 15 minutes and resulted in the largest loss of life ever recorded in a structure fire prior to September 11, 2001.
Numerous factors accounted for the high number of casualties, including exit doors that opened inward and a lack of lighted exit signs. Other post-fire findings noted that 27 of the theatre’s 30 exit doors that should have been opened by fleeing theatre ushers were actually locked. Internal stairways were intentionally blocked by accordion-style gates to ensure that patrons did not randomly move from lower-priced gallery and balcony seats to the more expensive main-level orchestra seating areas. Exterior fire escapes lacked the final ladder leg to safely get to the ground, and on-site firefighting equipment was limited to just six Kilfyre dry chemical fire-extinguishing tubes.
Of equal interest to the disaster-cause analysis were the deficiencies that had been noted BEFORE the Iroquois Theatre fire occurred. An editor from Fireproof Magazine had visited the Iroquois during construction and wrote about “the absence of an intake, or stage draft shaft; the exposed reinforcement of the (proscenium) arch; the presence of wood trim on everything and the inadequate provision of exits.” A Chicago Fire Department (CFD) official, also touring the theatre before the fire, had noted that there were no sprinklers, fire alarms, telephones, or water connections, all crucial for the preservation of life and the protection of property should the unexpected occur.
Shortly after the fire, shock, grief, and blame deflection turned into calls for accountability and action. Addressing public outcry across the city and the nation, the Chicago City Council subsequently passed sweeping new building ordinances that included the following:
- Egress standards for aisles and exits
- Fire-alarm system-connection requirements
- Seating capacity limitations
- Lighted-exit signage provisions
- Emergency backup-power specifications
- Exit-door design changes
Many of these recommendations were incorporated into the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)® 101 Life Safety Code®. Now protecting roughly six million buildings in the United States, NFPA® 101 is the definitive regulation source solely dedicated to the protection of all human life in buildings, dwellings, and affiliated structures.
Would open communication lines between applicable city departments and theatre management in 1903 have prevented the tragic loss of 602 souls? Would the death toll have been lower if the noted Fireproof Magazine and CFD comments had driven change before the theatre opened? We will never know. The lessons learned in the aftermath of the Iroquois Theatre fire nearly 120 years ago are still relevant today and can be successfully integrated into our modern-day risk programs.
Does your organization subscribe to clear conversation lines between operating divisions? Are your risk-mitigation strategies articulated across your entity and with your valued business partners? Do you have holistic incident-review processes in place to ensure that everything is done to prevent reoccurring mishaps? Have you thought about using your Risk Management Information System (RMIS) to track risk program data AND provide ongoing streams of actionable information?
We have. Our goal at Gallagher Bassett is to continually evaluate client, carrier, and broker risk information-management requirements to ensure that we successfully deliver the most robust RMIS tools available in the bundled TPA marketplace. Successful modern-day risk- and claims-management programs need timely views of ALL applicable program factors impacting your TCOR. Prevailing risk program requirements demand analytics-based computing technologies that include traditional core RMIS data sets as well as additional tools that support a wide array of information-management requirements.
Through our strategic partnership with Origami Risk, we have implemented a truly unique RMIS solution. Alongside core RMIS data-transaction details, we have integrated our own proprietary computing tools to extend our product-offering functionalities and decision-support capabilities. Stepping beyond the boundaries of traditional claim inquiry and transactional loss-run reporting, our data benchmarks, scorecards, and AI-driven predictive analytics deliver the actionable information required to drive superior claims outcomes.
Protecting our employees, properties, and enterprise brands must be fundamental elements of our risk-management programs. Drawing upon our repository of claims-management intellectual capital, use our LUMINOS RMIS tool sets to share risk-data details across your organization. Foster information collaboration across all departments in their efforts to reduce employee injuries, property loss, and brand image damage. Utilize your RMIS data and information to clearly define operational risk-management responsibilities and life safety-deficiency remediation actions.
Think about it. What could you do with an industry-leading cloud-based RMIS product? What if it was bundled together with your TPA claims-administration services? What other LUMINOS product features could we rapidly deploy for you so that you could successfully drive down your TCOR? What are you waiting for?
Interested in learning more about our LUMINOS RMIS product suite? Or any of our Expanded Service offerings available to Gallagher Bassett clients? We’d be delighted to talk with you. Stop by and visit us at the upcoming RMIS conference in San Francisco. Engage a member of our Sales or Client Service teams, or contact Jennifer Turner, SVP RMIS Solutions, at email@example.com.