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Happy Land

In: Science

Submitted By ray1455
Words 915
Pages 4






The Happy Land Fire was an arson fire that killed 87 people on March 25, 1990 in the Happy Land Social Club, The Bronx, New York. Most of the victims were young ethnic Hondurans.

Event History:

87 people died of smoke inhalation at the “Happy Land Social Club”. The fire was

started by a 36-year-old man who earlier had been ejected from the club after an

altercation with his former girlfriend, who worked at the club. He went to a nearby

gas station, filled a plastic container with a dollar’s worth of gasoline, and

returned to the club. He threw the gasoline into the only entrance of the club and

then lit matches to ignite the fire. Smoke quickly filled the first floor of the club,

where 18 people were found dead. Smoke billowed up the narrow staircases to

the second floor where there were 69 fatalities. All of the decedents died in the

building, and none were resuscitated. Five people escaped and survived.


Julio González was found guilty on 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder on August 19, 1991. He received the sentence maximum of 25 years to life for each count. The most substantial prison term ever imposed in New York state.
He will be eligible for parole in March 2015. The owners of the building that housed Happy Land club were found not criminally responsible, since they had tried to close the club and evict the tenant Elias Colon, who died in the fire. The street outside the former Happy Land social club has been renamed "The Plaza of the Eighty-Seven" as a way of memorializing the victims

Impact on Codes/Processes:
The Happy Land Social Club fire raised many issues relative to the legality of the club's presence, fire safety inspections and violations, and lack of follow-up and enforcement by the fire department and other city agencies involved. Mulligan
(2001) The even more important question, has anything been learned from this fire so that we can prevent similar tragedies. The building housing the Happy
Land Social Club was built in 1921. The space had been previously used as a retail store. Buildings constructed prior to 1938 were not required to have a certificate of occupancy. The owner of this building was cited for violations, including the illegal addition of a second floor, there was no building permit or approval of appropriate agencies. The landlord was required to install an automatic sprinkler system that was installed in 1966. The sprinkler system was unserviceable in 1971. It was not until 1980 that the landlord addressed this issue. In 1981, the building was inspected and its owner was issued multiple violation orders. It was determined that it lacked nearly every permit and license required. The building was 22 feet wide by 58 feet long, and the only two exits were side-by-side, 10 feet apart, at the front of the building on the first floor. A steel door at the rear was welded shut, and a first-floor window that had 3/4-inch steel bars on the inside was covered by concrete block. There was no glass to vent in the door or window, and only concrete block was in the window frame.
FDNY field units inspected the club annually. "No access" entries were noted. A timeline of FDNY, police department, and Buildings Department actions shows that each department inspected and visited the building, but there was no coordination or communication between these agencies.

Impact on Today’s Codes/Processes:
Today sprinklers are viewed as a life safety device and not only as a fire suppression device. This change has created a redesigning of sprinkler systems for life safety and are interlocked with property protection in the sprinkler designer's mind, creating a system that ensure life safety first and property protection second. At the Happy Land Social Club, sprinklers were effective where they were supplied and maintained. The victims in the club died of smoke inhalation. Those who were burned received the bums after they died. Had there been a working sprinkler on the first floor, the fire would have been limited in size and fewer gases would have been created. Interagency interaction in many ways has improved since the Happy Land Fire but those agencies have to continue to work together to prevent fire losses and loss of life.

The Happy Land Club had no accessible second exit, no fire alarms, no exit signs, and no emergency lighting. It was considered a life safety problem prior to the fire, but the lack of enforcement and interaction of agencies was an issues.
No one can know what was on the minds of the inspectors, but clearly the
Buildings Department, Police Department and FDNY should have taken a more aggressive role in determining the life safety and fire safety requirements of this occupancy, and the police or fire marshals should have been used to enforce the vacate orders.

Works Cited:
James R. Gill, M.D.; Lara B. Goldfeder, M.D.; and Marina Stajic, Ph.D.

The Happy Land Homicides: 87 Deaths Due to Smoke Inhalation (2003)

Mark Gado, A River Of Tears: Happy Land (1990) Fire

E. NIEVES, Refugee Found Guilty of Killing 87 in Bronx Happy Land Fire (1991)

T. Mulligan, Happy Land Fire: Have We Learned The Lessons (2001)…...

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