It’s that time of year that so many American sports fans relish, as the dark of winter recedes, the days grow longer, and our thoughts turn to a certain beloved warm-weather sport.
I’m talking, of course, about professional bike racing and the venerable spring classics: the pageantry and passion of the Tour of Flanders, the fearsome cobbles of Paris–Roubaix, the punchy hills of the trio of Ardennes races. It’s the time of the season dedicated to the truly hard men of the pro peloton, the rouleurs who embody what bike racing should be—gutsy, impulsive, risky, all-out—rather than the practitioners of the careful “marginal gains” approach who can make a three-week grand tour about as exciting as watching a very, very long baseball game.
Actually, wait a second—the beloved warm-weather sport I’m supposed to be addressing is baseball.
Sorry. My bad.
Today is opening day for Major League Baseball—the earliest opening in MLB history, apparently—and a lot is going on with the design, use, and safety features of the stadiums where all those games are played. That applies to baseball’s oldest stadium—Boston’s Fenway Park, which opened in 1912—as well as its newest: Atlanta’s SunTrust Park, which opened in 2017.
Stadiums host a wider range of events than ever before, from athletic contests to concerts to extreme-sport spectacles like the Red Bull Crashed Ice tour that transformed Fenway in February. Accordingly, stadiums and the people who manage them must be able to provide safe operation for a range of audiences across an assortment of facility configurations.
NFPA Journal has reported on the steps necessary to make this happen, most recently in our July/August 2018 issue that included a “Perspectives” conversation with Nick Dawe, a deputy fire marshal and captain with Cobb County (Georgia) Fire & Emergency Services. Dawe worked extensively with the Atlanta Braves organization, as well as the management of SunTrust Park, to establish fire and life safety benchmarks for the stadium, which is part of a large town-within-a-town complex that includes other concert venues, restaurants, bars, a brewery, shops, and office and residential space.
Coincidentally, that same issue included a “Looking Back” feature recounting a 1993 fire at a previous home of the Braves, Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium.
Finally, it’s worth noting again our 2012 story that detailed the decade-long renovation of Fenway, a process driven in large part by fire and life safety considerations. “At 100 years of age, Fenway is the nation’s oldest professional sports stadium currently in use and the smallest stadium in Major League Baseball,” author Steve Adelman wrote seven years ago. “While not perfect, its recent improvements have made it remarkably compliant with NFPA codes regarding life safety, fire alarms, sprinkler systems, and emergency messaging. In a larger sense, Fenway’s modernization is a prism through which to view not just one important building’s rebirth, but also the growing importance of life safety in how people all across the country experience a day at the ballpark.”
And so another season is upon us. Play ball.