The beer is flowing, the party is jumping, the music is blasting and the hallways are overflowing with people. It’s Friday night, and house and fraternity parties are happening all over campus, just like always. But what if something goes wrong?
Concern over safety at house parties, fraternity parties and area bars and clubs has risen in the last month, due to the two tragedies that occurred in clubs in Chicago and Rhode Island.
More than 20 people were killed and 50 people were injured in Chicago last month after someone sprayed a can of Mace to stop a fight at the nightclub E2 that failed to meet safety regulations. The incident was followed by another tragedy just days later when more than 90 people died in a Rhode Island club after a band used pyrotechnics during its show. The pyrotechnics started a fire, which panicked club-goers who were unable to escape due to the overcrowding of people inside the building.
Although LSA junior Melinda Hathaway said she feels many parties are overcrowded, she remains unconvinced an incident such as the ones that occurred in Rhode Island and Chicago could happen in Ann Arbor.
“You do get pushed around a lot and you don’t really know the best way around the house, because it’s not your house,” Hathaway said. “I guess you never know what is going to happen … but nothing bad has ever happened at any house party I’ve ever been to, so it’s hard to me to imagine people being rude and inconsiderate and trampling over each other to push their way out of a house.”
But Ann Arbor fire inspectors said there is more danger involved with house and fraternity parties than people are aware of. They also said that, due to budget and departmental cuts and the lack of a permanent fire chief, many of Ann Arbor’s bars and clubs have not been inspected for fire safety standards in several years.
Ann Arbor City Fire Inspector Doug Warsinski said the most important factors when determining the safety of a club or bar are the number of exits in the building, whether or not they are obstructed in any way and are easily identifiable, the existence of a sprinkler system, the type of insulation being used and the material that composes the building.
Warsinski added that though inspections are not occurring as regularly as they should, the majority of Ann Arbor clubs and bars are still safer than The Station, where the Rhode Island incident took place.
“Anytime there is a large crowd and an emergency takes place – fire or other – it creates a dangerous situation because people panic,” he said. “The Rhode Island club was in a wood-frame structure that was not suppressed and they used sound-proofing material that was highly flammable. Many of Ann Arbor’s clubs are in better-constructed structures overall, and many of them have automatic sprinkler systems.”
Ann Arbor Police Department Sgt. Craig Flocken said the city processes anywhere from five to 10 Michigan liquor control violations per month, some of which include fire safety violations.
For example, Touchdown Caf