The fire claimed the lives of 492 people and injured 166, making it the worst nightclub fire disaster in history. It could have been even worse. The club exceeded its 600-person capacity, with around 1000 people inside.
It is believed that the fire started in the Melody Lounge. A 16-year-old bar boy, Stanley Tomaszewski, lit a match to replace a light bulb that had been removed by a patron. How things happened next is unclear, but artificial palm trees and drapery quickly caught fire. It took only 15 minutes for the fire to engulf the building.
People were unable to exit the club. The two revolving doors were quickly blocked by frantic patrons. Many of the safety features we take for granted today were not in place. As a result of the tragic fire, many fire codes were established.
Revolving doors were later required to have flanking exits. Fire officials said that 300 of those killed could have been saved if doors opened out. Occupant capacity placards, exit lights and emergency lighting were also new rules established as a result of the fire. Fire sprinklers, which had been introduced in 1874 to protect warehouses, came into widespread use as a result of Coconut Grove, as a way to provide life safety for building occupants. In fact, the Life Safety Code originated from the Coconut Grove fire.
Studies of the fire also show that the refrigerator coolant, methyl chloride, was a cause of some of the deaths in the fire. Survivors said there was a burst of blue flame in the corner of the nightclub where the cooling system was located. Autopsies revealed lung damage in victims, something that would be related to methyl chloride poisoning.
There were also medical breakthroughs as a result of the fire. Lowell Clapp of Otis Clapp, donated gallons of his Obtundia Burn Liquid for the suffering victims. The unique numbing and healing treatment became widely known as an antiseptic/anti-burn remedy.
BPHC.org <--- includes pictures
Boston Fire Dept <--- includes pictures