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  1. #1

    Coconut Grove Fire

    Hi everyone,

    I am an architect doing some research on the 1942 coconut grove fire in boston the fire killed 492 people. Behind a wall where the fire started in a basement lounge was the compressor room. A room of about 5' wide x 30 feet long.
    The compressor ran on methyl chloride. The fire was spotted in the lounge in a corner at the ceiling, the corner shown in the attached photo. the lounge was aprox. 30' x 50' and packed with about 150-200 people. It was november so I doubt the heater shown in the photo was on. The fire was first started on the ceiling and spread across the ceiling igniting a fabric covering and traveling upstairs in a fireball and smoke along the ceiling and into the big ballroom ceiling. My question is if gas was leaking from the compressor could it have been leaking at a higher temperature than the air around it (the compressor room had a fan in a window near the compressor so I assume it was around 50 of 60 f ) and thus been able to leach through the wall near the ceiling maybe saturating the fabric ceiling near the heater? Methyl chloride is heavier than air so I am trying to figure how it could have gotten up to the ceiling. Could the heaters fan have helped draw the gas to the ceiling. I imagine the heater would be running before patrons started to come to the nightclub.

    Any help would be appreciated.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
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    If the compressor was running and the leak was on the dicharge side it could have been a higher temp than the air. Was the compresor for comfort cooling or refrigeration? I dont think it would have seeped through the wall and caused the fire. If the refrigerant was the cause, I would think the fire started in the compressor room and spread. Looking at that picture it probably didnt start in the comp room. I would "guess" the refrigerant did not have anything to do with it.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by bigtime View Post
    If the compressor was running and the leak was on the dicharge side it could have been a higher temp than the air. Was the compresor for comfort cooling or refrigeration? I dont think it would have seeped through the wall and caused the fire. If the refrigerant was the cause, I would think the fire started in the compressor room and spread. Looking at that picture it probably didnt start in the comp room. I would "guess" the refrigerant did not have anything to do with it.

    It was for refrigeration. Is the appliance in the photo definitely gas, it could not be a cooling radiator could it? In 42' were cooling lines run in steel pipe?
    Methyl C is highly flammable and may have had nothing to do with the fire but many people believe it acted as the accelerant for the fire. But if it did how did it get to the ceiling.

  4. #4
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    Dec 2003
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    One other thought for you to consider.

    There was probably piping from the compressor room to the kitchen where the cooler/freezer was. Would not be surprising if refrig piping went through the room in the picture if the comp room was right behind the wall in the picture. Still, ref pipe doesnt just start leaking large amounts in most cases.

  5. #5
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    Dec 2003
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    And looking at the picture one more time, it doesnt look like it was a hot fire fed by something. The wall and furniture arent really that burned.

    Maybe Ive been watching a little to much csi...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
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    I'm no chemist, but methyl chloride doesn't sound very flammable to me. It would probably decompose at high temperatures, causing irritating and possibly deadly gas, but I don't think it would start a self-sustaining fire

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
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    Central, FL
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    How did 400 die when there were only 200 in th bar? Boston in November thr heat was most likely on. What kind of furnace was it?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
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    The appliance in the picture looks like a unit heater and most likely had steam or hot water piping. Extremely unlikely it had refrigerant piped to it.

    Most refrigerent leaks are very small and hard to find. They dont just start blowing like you would need to start a fire. Maybe it had something to do with the fire, but I would doubt it since it doesnt look like it started in the mech room behind the wall.

    I would guess the refrigerant lines in '42 were carbon steel.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Houston area
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    From Wikipedia, chloromethane. Sounds like some pretty nasty stuff. Although I'm not a champion of big government, thank God for our modern fire protection codes and the rules that tend to keep us safe in modern structures. This reminds me of the fire at The Station night club in West Warwick, R.I. when 100 people died at a Great White gig.

    Chloromethane, also called methyl chloride, R-40 or HCC 40, is a chemical compound of the group of organic compounds called haloalkanes. It was once widely used as a refrigerant. It is a colorless extremely flammable gas with a mildly sweet odor, which is, however, detected at possibly toxic levels. Due to concerns about its toxicity, it is no longer present in consumer products. Chloromethane was first synthesized by the French chemists Jean-Baptiste Dumas and Eugene Peligot in 1835 by boiling a mixture of methanol, sulfuric acid, and sodium chloride. This method is similar to that used today.
    The picture in my avatar is of the Houston Ship Channel and was taken from my backyard. I like to sit outside and slap mosquitos while watching countless supertankers, barges and cargo ships of every shape and size carry all sorts of deadly toxins to and fro. It's really beautiful at times.....just don't eat the three eyed fish....

    `. .` .>(((>

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  10. #10
    There were over 1000 people in the nightclub when the fire started. 150-200 in the Melody Lounge in the basement where the fire started. I am attaching the floor plans. The fire started in the top left corner of the melody lounge. There is another compressor room near the refridg's so maybe the one adjacent the the melody lounge provided chilled lines for the bar area in the lounge. In which case the lines may have been up in the ceiling, what do you all think about that?


    This will have the floor plans that you can blow up and still read. Just scroll down a little bit.

    http://www.bostonfirehistory.org/firestory11281942.html
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  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by archt View Post
    There were over 1000 people in the nightclub when the fire started. 150-200 in the Melody Lounge in the basement where the fire started. I am attaching the floor plans. The fire started in the top left corner of the melody lounge. There is another compressor room near the refridg's so maybe the one adjacent the the melody lounge provided chilled lines for the bar area in the lounge. In which case the lines may have been up in the ceiling, what do you all think about that?


    This will have the floor plans that you can blow up and still read. Just scroll down a little bit.

    http://www.bostonfirehistory.org/firestory11281942.html

    I just read in the investigation papers that the unit that looks like a heater is actually a cooling unit so the compressor directly behind it must have been running it. If it had a leak how obvious would it be?

  12. #12
    Here is another update....apparently the hanging unit is a heater and the speaker cabinet looking thing is a portable ac unit. See attached page from Fire Report.
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  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
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    I'd have to ask my self one question about that report.

    If the room had portable AC units, to where was the heat being ejected?

    This is a basement room.

    It is much more likely that these "portable AC units" were actually dehumidifiers.
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