Safety INsight: Natchez Rhythm Club Fire

A new look at an old fire. One that killed more than 200 people, yet rapidly faded from view. One that should have brought life safety code changes to prevent this kind of disaster but was mostly ignored. You’ve likely never heard of the Natchez Rhythm Club fire. It made headlines in 1940 but it took a fire two years later at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub before substantive changes were made to protect people inside crowded nightspots. It’s likely that a call to action after the Natchez Rhythm Club fire never occurred because the fire was in a Black community in the deep South.

Could fire code improvements after the Rhythm Club fire have prevented almost 500 people from dying inside Cocoanut Grove? That’s one of the questions asked in a new, short film from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) produced by First Arriving. The lessons of the Rhythm Club remain relevant. Many of the same life safety issues were found after 100 people died in the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island. The film shows how the Natchez fire is taught today to future fire protection engineers.

NFFF believes the Rhythm Club story – while 82 years old — still has the potential to save lives of both the public and our nation’s firefighters.