Early in the morning of April 2, 1973, a fire involved a second-floor night club in a 12 story hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. This fire was of particular interest because it exposed a 10 story atrium in the center of the hotel, and even though property damage was high, only one of the 1,000 guests required hospital treatment. The fire was discovered coming from the nightclub at 4:30 a.m. by a maintenance employee, who activated a manual fire alarm station and then pulled out a standpipe hose and began applying water.
The atrium, located in the middle of the building was filled with smoke when firefighters arrived, and visibility was down to 10 feet in most areas. Most of the firefighters were assigned to prevent panic among the occupants and assist with evacuation. NFPA’s Fire Journal article regarding the incident found several items of note:
- The building’s mechanical exhaust system did not operate; because the switch connecting the smoke detection system to the smoke exhaust system had been turned off (the system had to be manually turned on during firefighting operations)
- Visibility was severely reduced, to the point of obscuring exit signs
- Exit doorways were painted the same color as the surrounding wall, obscuring their location to occupants in the dense smoke
- Guests attempted to use the automatic elevators for escape; since the elevators could not be manually controlled for escape, firefighters had to ride the cars to prevent their being used
- The large volume of the atrium permitted dilution of smoke in the early stages of the fire, enabling some guests to escape without much confusion
- Quick action by firefighters to control panic probably held injuries to a minimum; one firefighter was injured in this incident