SFPE Marks Anniversary of Deadly Hotel Fire


In the wake of the 60thanniversary of the nation’s deadliest hotel fire, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) asks that engineers continue to foster fire protection and advance the practice of fire protection engineering, and also recognize the technological improvements in the fire protection industry during the past 60 years.

On Dec. 7, 1946, a fire at downtown Atlanta’s Winecoff Hotel left 199 people dead and 90 people injured, the deadliest hotel fire to date in the United States. At the time of the fire, the hotel had only one exit stairway for occupants to escape the upper floors of the 15-floor building. The doors to this stairway were not fire-rated and many doors were left open.

“Once the fire started on the third floor, the stairway effectively became a chimney—allowing the smoke and fire to spread quickly up this stair and throughout the upper floors,” said Chris Jelenewicz, Engineering Program Manager with the Bethesda, Md.-based Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

In addition, the Winecoff Hotel was constructed of non-combustible materials, which gave building owners and occupants the mistaken notion that it was fireproof, and consequently, a false sense of security.

As a result of the fire, many buildings and fire codes were enhanced to provide more fire protection. These enhancements include: improved exiting systems, safer interior finishes and the installation of fire alarm and automatic fire suppression systems.

“The Winecoff Hotel fire reminds us of the danger that is posed by fire and the importance of designing buildings that are safe from fire,” Jelenewicz said. “The fact of the matter, however, is that today hotels are now much better protected. This is in large part due to the fire-safety strategies and systems designed by fire protection engineers that make people and property safer from fire.”

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