Before the Fire

By: Alana Adams
By: Alana Adams

The staff at any nightclub knows how packed the place can get within just a couple of hours. They also realize that it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and everyone in the building.

Many lessons were learned from a fire that killed more than 200 people at a nightclub in Rhode Island just a couple years ago.

Chris Pitts, a manager at Club La Vela on Panama City Beach, says the thought of a similar tragedy had local nightclubs reviewing their own fire safety plans.

"One thing we came up with is obviously bringing more security guards. The more security you have, the more crowd control you have, which is crucial to your fire exit scheme."

Club La Vela boasts itself as the largest nightclub in the U.S. The property is lined with a sprinkler system inside and out, and the music stops if any alarm sounds.

"Keep the flow of traffic moving, that's one of the important things. If you've got people bottled up in one room, all your exits bottled up and people not moving, if something was to happen, no one's going to get out and you're going to have the same scenario as with the other nightclub fire. That's something we don't want to happen."

Capt. Joe Coco with the Panama City Beach Fire Department says getting breakers to pay attention isn't easy.

"Unfortunately, spring breakers or any patrons here are having a good time and unfortunately not really thinking about fire safety."

It's easy to spot the exit signs when the lights are on and the rooms are empty, but fire officials say breakers and party-goers should locate all the exits every time they enter a room.

"Most people are just aware of walking into the nightclub, the main exit. There's plenty of exits here and at most of these nightclubs, and it's very important to walk through and find as many exits as you possibly can."

Club staff and fire officials agree that planning and paying attention to your surroundings could mean the difference between life and death.

8195 Front Beach Road Panama City Beach, FL 32407 Station: 850-234-7777 News: 850-230-5221 Fax: 850-233-6647
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