Sacrifices made for city’s fire safety

Published 3:32 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2021

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Natchez’s fire safety standards have come a long way in 81 years.

Hearing of someone’s death caused by a fire seems like a rare occurrence. Just last week, the roof of a Natchez hotel on Seargent Prentiss Drive caught fire causing heat damage to one or two rooms. Just a few weeks prior, two houses also caught fire, including the home of a blind man and a disabled woman on Cherry Street and another home on North Rankin Street.

Fortunately, in every one of those fires everyone inside made it out unscathed.

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This is a stark contrast to the Rhythm Night Club fire, which occurred on the night of April 23, 1940, at the dance hall on St. Catherine Street.

The fire was ranked the fourth deadliest club fire in U.S. history, killing more than 200 people.

The back door of the building was padlocked and windows were boarded up to prevent nonpaying outsiders from enjoying the music. The building’s only exit was engulfed in flames and made impassable. As a result, more than 200 young people were trapped inside.

Of course, this was before the city-paid Natchez Fire Department and before public buildings were legally required to pass fire safety standards such as clearly marked exits and mandatory alert systems.

We owe a dept to these young men and women who lost their lives teaching this community a valuable lesson about fire safety.

We also owe a debt of gratitude to public safety servants like Stan Owens, who spent his time as a fireman and as Adams County Emergency Management Director improving the safety quality of our city.

Owen’s was instrumental in helping streamline our emergency dispatch system for the city and county with E-911 and installing 30 emergency siren systems county wide.

Owens died last weekend of natural causes, but the things he did to protect the people of Adams County are still there.

As we remember the tragedy of the Rhythm Night Club fire and mourn the passing of a public hero, let us give thanks to all of those who came before us who made us safer and changed our lives for the better.