Hospital’s challenges in 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire similar to those faced after Marathon bombing

In Sunday’s Globe, I wrote about the response of Boston hospitals to the Marathon bombing and lessons learned in caring for dozens of unidentified patients. Here is a fascinating account of remarkably similar issues that Massachusetts General Hospital encountered during the tragic 1942 Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire that killed 492 people.

Sue Marsh, librarian for the National Fire Protection Association, manages a historical website about the fire and pointed out the comparison. Because of the Pearl Harbor attack the previous year, Mass. General had prepared a disaster plan and was able to assemble medical teams within minutes.

Still, it proved difficult to save lives. One hundred fourteen casualties were sent to Mass. General; 75 of those people were either dead on arrival or died soon thereafter. The hospital’s treatment of the victims led to major advances in burn care and a better understanding of how to treat acute grief.

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