The National Fire Safety Week is running from 6 to 13 October, this year. It is a scheme that was initiated in the US after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but has since spread globally. With Halloween approaching at the end of the month, it is the optimum time of year to get fire safety conscious.
|Fire at the Power's Distillery, John's Lane, Dublin|
5 July 1961
The Irish Photo Archive has a shockingly high number of fires included in our collection. Perhaps the most notorious and tragic of these incidents is the fire in the Stardust nightclub in 1981 on Valentine's Eve. 48 people died in this fire, with another 214 injured. The fire escalated very quickly, causing the ceiling to melt on top of the patrons and the lights to fail. In the resulting panic there was a stampede for the exit.
However, people became disorientated in the dark and mistook the entrance to the bathrooms for the main entrance. The windows in the bathroom had metal bars and plates on the outside, so people got trapped. The fire brigade pulled these bars down by attaching chains to their engines, and managed to get about 25-30 people to safety that way. There were also chains wrapped around the push bars of the exit doors, hampering escape that way.
In the photo below of the burnt out shell of the Stardust, the pandemonium that must have occurred inside the ballroom is evident from the overturned tables and chairs still lying in the black sludge.
|The aftermath of the Stardust fire, 14 February 1981|
There are many other fires recorded in the Archive, including the Powers Distillery, the Johnson Mooney & O’Brien mills, and the Loreto convent. There’s also clear cases of arson, such as the burning down of the British Embassy after the Bloody Sunday killings in 1972. But the devastation a fire can wreak on a family is perhaps best summed up by the photo below of Mrs Sheridan and her son James when their home in Walkinstown was burnt down in 1960.
|The Sheridan family, 29 September 1960|
There is advice on how be fire aware on the Fire Safety Week website, www.firesafetyweek.ie, with tips on prevention, detection and evacuation techniques. If you want more advice, they will be more than happy to answer any of your queries. And though a fire alarm might be annoying when you’re cooking up a fry on a Sunday morning to cure a hangover, don’t be tempted to remove the batteries. Remember, it only takes 3 minutes to succumb to smoke inhalation.
Stay safe, people!