May 21, 2010

With all the Rand Paul news going on, I think it’s time to put his anti-government rhetoric into some perspective.

When people think government regulation, especially after you hear some Republican talk about it, you never think about the things that really keep us safe – things like fire safety codes. They are just there and they work to protect us. As a former fire inspector, I can tell you first hand that these “government regulations” save lives, but don’t take my word for it. Let’s go back a few decades to the biggest disaster that ever struck Kentucky. I think that’s appropriate, since Rand Paul just so happens to be running for Senate from the Bluegrass state.

On May 28, 1977, almost 33 years ago to the day, Southgate, Kentucky saw a fatal fire at The Beverly Hills Supper Club. The fire claimed 165 lives and injured over 200 others. It’s the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

The cause of the actual fire was never fully determined, but the belief is that it was from faulty aluminum wiring (as was all too common in that era). But the cause isn’t what’s important here. What is important is the other findings of the investigation. Here is a list of violations inspectors uncovered:

  • Overcrowding. Although seating charts recovered from the club after the fire show that the Cabaret Room (the largest facility in the club) normally held between 614 and 756 people, a hostess who had worked at the club for several years estimated occupancy on the date in question to be well over 1,300.
  • Inadequate fire exits. Full occupancy of the entire complex was estimated to be roughly 2,750, which under Kentucky law would require 27.5 exits. The club only had 16.5 exits, many of which were not clearly marked or easily reached. Some exits could only be reached by passing through three or more interior doors and corridors. Many victims perished in dead ends and after becoming lost.
  • Faulty wiring. Governor Julian Carroll's report on the fire called the club's wiring an "electrician's nightmare", and alleged multiple, wide-ranging code violations. Bridgetown electrician H. James Amend, who inspected the fire site at the request of a local attorney, said, "I cannot believe that any of this was ever inspected."[3]
  • Lack of fire walls. This allowed the fire to spread, and in addition allowed it to draw oxygen from other areas of the complex.
  • Poor construction practices. The club had been built piecemeal with inadequate roof support, no common ceiling space, and highly flammable components.
  • Extreme safety code violations. There was no sprinkler system and no audible automatic fire alarm, and some doors were locked.
  • Poor oversight by regulatory authorities. The local volunteer fire department is said by the Enquirer to have known of the deficiencies, but had not ordered them to be corrected.

All of these were from ignoring that pesky “government regulation”. In a Rand Paul world, these wouldn’t be violations, because such regulations wouldn’t even exist. Just think about that for a moment. Now the next time you are in a grocery store, movie theater or any public place, look around. Check out all those doors with the big exit light over it. Look up at the ceiling and those little sprinkler heads, or check out the fire extinguishers and alarms around the building. All those are there because of government regulation and all those items help save lives.

It’s past time we but the brakes on this meme that government regulation is evil. Government regulation saves lives – period! If the Beverly Hills Supper Club would have followed those government regulations, then the loss of life would have been much less. The attitude of Rand Paul, along with all his other anti-government crowd, really needs to think about this. Their view of the government is as deadly, if not more, than a lot of terrorist attacks.

(cross posted at IntoxiNation

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