The Oakland tragedy: a wake up call for us all.


In the 60s and 70s Oakland was the World Headquarters for Roller Derby.  Our original office and training center were not far from the site of the terrible warehouse fire that killed at least 33.

The fire never should have happened: an illegal art collective was in the warehouse with many people living there with no attempt to get permits; no fire sprinklers or legal entrance or exits marked.  So there was a music event on the 2nd floor, one staircase made of wood pallets the only exit and entrance, and material that was just waiting to burn.

The city is at fault for not inspecting the building; the owner for allowing it to happen….and there are probably a number of other warehouses being used for the same purpose.

But what I want to focus on is your safety at any event you either attend or produce.  I produced Roller Derby, concerts, sports events, and then ticketed them through my company at a later time….I have been in this business (currently with Brown Paper Tickets) for 60 years.

There are no shortcuts to safety for those who attend events, whether it is Roller Derby, clubs, concerts, festivals or whatever.  First, as a spectator, once you have entered the facility look for the exits, are they clearly marked?  I am always concerned about halls where tickets are sold as general admission….are there clear aisles, does it seem oversold to you?  Greedy promoters (not an oxymoron) will often keep selling beyond permitted capacity….happens more often than you think…what we did at BASS would check the capacity (set by the fire marshal) and never sell beyond the figure, no matter what the promoter wanted.  And if you think the facility is over capacity, leave and request a refund.  I also suggest contacting the fire marshal for future reference.

The major arenas and buildings usually are operated by the cities or management, and you are more safe attending events there (maybe not as much fun).  less likely to be a counter- culture event.

The lesson learned from the Oakland fire is that you do not think that when you are going to hear music you are putting your life at risk.  Just do a few simple checks whenever you go.

2 comments on “The Oakland tragedy: a wake up call for us all.

  1. Checking for the exits is ALWAYS the first thing I do when going to any unfamiliar place.
    Had it not been for a dying friend who wanted my company, I would have been in the Station nightclub fire in Rhode island. I’d like to think that I would have gotten out, but doesn’t everyone think that?
    My phone started blowing up at 6 am the next morning from friends and family who knew I’d likely have been there. It didn’t stop for two days. I was shocked at the number of people who cared about me…I had no clue.
    That was the true impetus that made me start checking for exits first.
    Think about those who care for you, and then double or triple that number. Taking just a minute to see where to go and how to get there could prevent not only the loss of your own life, but also avoiding the pain of it to those that you matter so much to. <3.

  2. As a retired flight attendant, and the daughter of a retired firefighter, I am hyper-alert when it comes to crowd safety and exit strategy – I’ve seen and heard too much. Jerry, I loved your article – with respect, I would like to contribute my two cents’ worth, based upon my experience and training:

    1) ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS remember where you came in from, relative to your current location indoors, AND THEN pick a secondary and even a tertiary exit. Your first choice of exit in the event of an emergency will change depending upon where you are inside. The door you entered through is not always (and likely will not be) the door you should leave through if you need to get out in a hurry. As you go throughout the venue, ask yourself, “If I needed to get out quickly (fire, terrorist/gunman, medical emergency, earthquake) which exit is closest to me and/or easiest to get to?” Sometimes the closest isn’t the most convenient.

    2) Don’t be a lemming. Relative to the last sentence about a convenient exit, if the big double doors are closest, but there is a huge crowd ahead of you, perhaps an exit further away behind you may yield less of a traffic jam. People tend to develop a herd mentality when things go wrong – it’s because we don’t want to be alone so we go with the flow. It’s a bad move. Bodies have been found stacked in burned-up aircraft aisles as people died from smoke inhalation while attempting to exit through the door they boarded through – meanwhile, window and aft door exits were never opened. Many of you may recall the nightclub fire on the east coast a few decades back where an 80’s metal band (whose name escapes me at this moment, please forgive me) was playing, and the bodies were stacked up at the entrance to the nightclub. An exit immediately behind the stage was completely open yet only used by a few. The herd mentality kicked in – to the peril of a majority of the patrons that night.

    3) Doors aren’t the only exits. Bust a window open. Break through a wall. I can kick a hole through sheet rock and I bet you can as well. If you have to, create your own exit! Is there a false ceiling above you? Is there a ventilation shaft? Consider all your options. You’re smart – take that extra second while everyone is going crazy around you and THINK, “What else could I do?” If you are above the first floor and no more than 3-4 floors up, is it an option to break a window out and hang from the ledge then drop? A broken ankle is a better choice than your mom finding out you’re not coming home at all.

    4) Practice a mental review. This is something that people in emergency services are taught to do all day, every day. Every time my plane took off and landed, I would consider where my able-bodied people were (military/law enforcement/EMS, high school/college athletes, people who just seemed alert and aware), who might need help (seniors, disabled, kids traveling without parents), and what my exterior conditions were (night time, landing over water, snowing, etc). Imagining the ‘what-ifs’ will come in handy should they ever manifest in real life.

    5) This last part may seem callous, and it’s not intended to be, but the bottom line is that despite what the building owner is supposed to do, despite what the superintendent, the fire marshal, the insurance company . . . despite what ALL the responsible people are supposed to do, YOU are the ONLY ONE who is ultimately responsible to ensure your own safety. This statement is not meant in any way to diminish the loss of life in Oakland as thought the people in that warehouse were negligible or irresponsible. I say this because YOU are the only one who matters to YOU. In an emergency, it’s everyone for themselves and there are few Good Samaritans. YOU have got to take action, consider the options in advance and then act calmly and rationally to move as quickly as possible. If you make the above steps a part of your awareness when in large spaces, particularly arenas, warehouses, shopping malls and large office buildings, you will exponentially increase your chances of survival in the event of a disaster.

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