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Jan 26 2013

Kiss Nightclub – Santa Maria, Brazil

Category: News,Panic HardwareLori @ 8:45 pm Comments (13)

I woke up this morning to yet another nightclub tragedy – this time in Santa Maria, Brazil.  This fire shared common issues with many of the past nightclub fires – a high occupant load, ignition of flammable foam or decorations, no working sprinklers, insufficient or unmarked exits, and a heartbreakingly-high loss of life.  The death toll currently stands at 233.  I can’t help but imagine the bodies of the young people lined up in the make-shift morgue, with their cell phones ringing and ringing as their friends and family search for them.

For many of us, the first response is probably to wonder why this has happened again…why we haven’t learned from the past tragedies.  Why are there nightclubs without sprinkler systems?  Who installs flammable decorations or flammable acoustic foam and then exposes this material to pyrotechnics?  Isn’t there some way to provide security and prevent theft besides locking exits?

But most of you who are reading these words right now are positioned to do more than just wonder why.  We can have an impact on life safety and fire prevention.  We see fire doors and egress doors that are improperly modified, wedged open, locked, blocked, or otherwise prevented from performing their desired function.  We see electromagnetic locks without the proper release devices, and stair doors which don’t unlock to allow reentry.  We can educate someone, discuss problems with the AHJ, inspire change.  The problems we see may not always be in a large venue like the Kiss Nightclub, but what if our intervention saves one life?  I think it’s worth the time.  Do you?

  • Kiss Nightclub, Santa Maria, Brazil – 2012 – 233 fatalities
  • Lame Horse Nightclub, Perm, Russia – 2009 – 152 fatalities
  • Buenos Aires Nightclub, Argentina – 2004 – 194 fatalities
  • Station Nightclub, West Warwick, Rhode Island – 2003 – 100 fatalities
  • Epitome Nightclub, Chicago, Illinois – 2003 – 21 fatalities
  • Disco, Luoyang, China – 2000 – 309 fatalities
  • Ozone Disco Pub, Quezon City, Philippines – 1996 – 162 fatalities
  • Stardust Nightclub, Dublin, Ireland – 1981 – 48 fatalities
  • Beverly Hills Supper Club, Southgate, Kentucky – 1977 – 165 fatalities
  • Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire, Boston, Massachusetts – 1942 – 492 fatalities
  • Rhythm Nightclub, Natchez, Mississippi – 1940 – 209 fatalities

UPDATE:  Additional articles added.

Brazil Nightclub Owner Blames Country for Fire – Boston Herald

The tragedy raised questions about the reliability of safety regulations in a nation set to host the World Cup and Olympic Games. Documents obtained by The Associated Press, including past building and fire safety plan permits issued to the club, showed that the single exit, the foam insulation and other contributors to the tragedy didn’t violate laws.

“Do I agree with the fact that there was only one exit? No,” said Maj. Gerson Pereira, an inspector with the local fire department. “Do I agree that the roof was covered with flammable material? No, I don’t. I would have liked to shut down this place, but then the firefighters could be sued” because no law had been broken.

City officials probed for negligence over Brazil nightclub fire – Chicago Tribune

“There is a political dimension to what happened,” Cesar Augusto Carlan, a public prosecutor for the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where the fire occurred, said in an interview on Wednesday.

He said the investigation sought to determine what fault may lie with the city, fire inspectors, and any other enforcement officials who had allowed the nightclub to operate.

In a news conference late Tuesday, Santa Maria’s mayor, Cesar Schirmer, said city inspectors visited the club last April after it had undergone remodeling and found no reason to revoke its operating permit.

Focus turns to Brazilian club safety after fire – Chicago Sun Times

“The tragedy in Santa Maria forces us to seriously reflect over our national culture of leniency, contempt and corruption,” it said. “We must start from the principle that the mea culpa belongs to us all: public servants, owners of establishments that disregard safety regulations, and regular citizens who flaunt them.”

Preliminary investigations into the tragedy have revealed that there was no alarm, working fire extinguisher or sprinkler and only one working exit in the Kiss nightclub, turning it into a death trap.

Firmino said the number and state of the exits are under investigation but that it appeared that a second door was “inadequate,” as it was small and protected by bars that wouldn’t open.

Brazil nightclub fire:  No fire alarm, just one door – Christian Science Monitor

There was no fire alarm, no sprinklers, no fire escape. In violation of state safety codes, fire extinguishers were not spaced every 1,500 square feet, and there was only one exit. As the city buried its young Monday, questions were raised about whether Brazil is up to the task of ensuring the safety in venues for the World Cup next year, and the Olympics in 2016. Four people were detained for questioning, including two band members and the nightclub’s two co-owners.

Deadly Smoke, Lone Blocked Exit: 230 Die in Brazil – ABC News (video)

Survivors and the police inspector Marcelo Arigony said security guards briefly tried to block people from exiting the club. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.

But Arigony said the guards didn’t appear to block fleeing patrons for long. “It was chaotic and it doesn’t seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died,” he told The Associated Press.

Later, firefighters responding to the blaze initially had trouble getting inside the Kiss nightclub because “there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance,” Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city’s fire department, told the O Globo newspaper.

Fire rips through crowded Brazil nightclub, killing 233 – CNN

Friends who were inside the club told him that many struggled to find the exits in the dark. Muller, who was not inside the club Sunday morning but has been there twice before, said there were no exit signs over the doors. It is rare to see such signs in Brazilian clubs.

Valderci Oliveira, a state lawmaker, told Band News that he saw piles of bodies in the club’s bathroom when he arrived at the scene hours after the blaze. It looked “like a war zone,” he said.

The club’s license had expired in August and had not been renewed, local fire official Moises da Silva Fuchs told Globo TV.

Brazil nightclub fire in Santa Maria kills 233 – BBC News (video)

The exit, she said, was a “small door for lots of people to come out by.”  The young woman’s sister, Aline Santos Silva, 29, commended the emergency services: “Help arrived really quickly, ambulances, police.”

Fire crews tried knocking through an exterior wall to help those trapped inside to escape.  Fifty bodies were found in the club’s toilets, a doctor told AP news agency.

“The toxic smoke made people lose their sense of direction so they were unable to find their way to the exit,” said Dr Paulo Afonso Beltrame, speaking by phone from Caridade hospital.  “Apparently they confused the bathroom door with the exit door.”

Brazil nightclub fire: security guards ‘stopped people from leaving’ – The Telegraph

Matheus Bortolotto, a dentist who survived the fire, said some of the victims had been trapped by crowd control barriers.

“The club’s barriers used to organise queues locked people in,” he told Correio do Povo. “One girl died in my arms, I felt her heart stop beating. It was like a movie scene.

“The ambulances could not cope with the number of casualties. We could not manage to use the emergency exits. Those at the bottom of the club had no chance.”

This photo, published in the Daily Mail, show panic hardware and outswinging doors on the main entrance.  If only there had been enough available exits to accommodate the occupant load.  What’s it going to take for people to pay attention?

Kiss Nightclub Doors

13 Responses to “Kiss Nightclub – Santa Maria, Brazil”

  1. David R.DeFilippo says:

    This is really sickening. All of the same issues of every other bad fire. I assume there are insurers and they need to press for change – no compliance no club.

    • Lori says:

      Exactly. The club’s license reportedly had not been renewed because it only had one exit. We’ll see if that turns out to be true, but if they were operating without a license/permit, SOMEONE knew and let it go on. The consequences for operating a non-compliant facility need to be much more convincing in order to make lives more important than the entrance fee and bar tab.

  2. Marvin Kemp, AIA, CSI, CDT says:

    Thanks, Lori. You are absolutely right – we have to work to inspire change. I spent part of yesterday trying to decide how to discuss this with my teenage children to make sure they stay safe when they are old enough to go to these types of clubs. The fact of the matter is patrons can’t protect themselves once inside a club with no sprinklers, blocked exits and dangerous materials. The average citizen can’t recognize those conditions, but we as construction professionals can.

    • Lori says:

      I talk to my kids about this too and they’re much younger, but they know about looking for the exits when we are in a crowd, going to the nearest exit if there’s a problem, and they also know how to spot a locked/blocked exit. Make sure your teenagers know about wire glass too. Although these fires cause catastrophic losses, most of us are more likely to be impacted by the hazards of wire glass than a nightclub fire.

  3. Tony Park says:

    we’re one of the countries missed on this list, lori – and i hope it stays that way…

    i’m with you that what we do everyday CAN and DOES make a difference for the better.

    rest in peace to all those lost in the KISS nightclub fire, and may lori never have to post another such article.

  4. Brad Keyes says:



    Left to their own devices, unscrupulous owners of society establishments will disregard ordinances, laws, regulations, codes and standards in order to make more money. Where are the code enforcers in situations like this? In some situations they have performed the required inspections only to find the club owners made unauthorized changes. In other situations, the requisite inspections never took place.

    The United States is not exempt from these types of disasters, such as the tragedies at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island, and the E Club in Chicago, just 10 years ago would suggest.

    Stronger and tighter code compliance is the start of the solution, but the end only resides with the owners and operators of these establishments.

    Marvin: Teach your children how to recognize a potential firetrap and to stay away from those environments.

  5. Gerald Austin says:

    A number of years ago, a grade school principal in a large city where I lived for a time that shall remain nameless decided that the fire inspectors were just too much trouble and defied an order to remove storage in a stair enclosure, under the lowest level where there was a space (no longer permited by Life Safety Code). The setup was similar to the “Our Lady of Angels” fire setup years ago that killed a number of kids. The fire inspector, who also inspected hospital buildings I managed, smiled as he said: “About half an hour after the reasonable requirement was rudely rebuffed, an Assistant City Attorney and two uniformed officers showed up at the school, reviewed the situation and promptly arrested the principal, taking him in for booking. They required the Superintendent of Schools at the time to come down and bail him out. Years later, he told me this event apparently fixed the problem of not taking fire recommendations to heart as they had no further problem with any school. People without direct experience with fire tend to not revere it as those of us who have fought fires and see how quickly they can move. They view fire recommendations as needless expense or a nusiance to them. They do not know how quickly fire can flash over in situations that have dry combustible interior decorations that can be ignited by someone with a lighter trying to see (Coconut Grove presumed cause) or in this case something that produces sparks, obviously with enough energy to light a fire. The toxicity of smoke killed many in the Coconut Grove fire before they could react. Undoubtedly, those who own and manage buildings don’t intend to have such a tragedy appended to their name and reputation but they really don’t know basic things they should and often do stupid things with interior finishings – without review or permits.

    A number of years ago, I was taking my youngsters through one of the haunted houses that spring up in October. The charitable club putting on the haunted house had taken a two story duplex, made it one area by knocking holes in the wall between the sections, creating a wandering path of cardboard, cotton, foam rubber including offsets in the floor that caused kids to fall forward on foam rubber so they were not hurt, extension cords, lights under the cotton, etc. The kids when through the first floor then up stairs to the second floor across and down the first floor and out. There were probably about 15 adults along the route to create some scary scenes. Once I got well into the duplex I was increasingly concerned and really moved my youngsters along, falling myself where the offsets in the egress had been created. I stopped at the exit and collared one of the people in charge and in detail told them the potential of what they had set up. He told me to relax, they had people who would get the kids out. They probably had 100 kids in the passageways at any given time – impossible to evacuate if the fire started in the first floor and burned up the stairwells, there were no closed doors. I went to a phone and called the Fire Department and told them they must have rocks for brains if they knowingly permitted this type of potential trap. I got a call from the Assistant Chief next day thanking me for the report and noting they responded and shut it down. They also reviewed the other locations and reportedly closed some of them also. There were special regulations in place the next year requiring a reasonable environment of safety. Folks have to be alert and not hesitate reporting dangerous situations to the authorities. In this case association with a charitable cause had probably avoided a City review.

    • Lori says:

      Wow – great stories Gerald! We all need to follow your lead and be willing to make that call. How will we live with ourselves if we let it slide and then something happens?

  6. Steve Lewis says:

    There is only so much we can do. example: being a musician, and a hardware, code guy, i played the Station several times. One time another band was loading gunpowder in a tuna can with wires to ignite the gunpowder. needless to say, i lost my mind and explained to the owner and manager everything that was wrong with the exit situation. i believe my last quote was ” This place is a *bleeping* death trap”
    unfortunately, i was right. I was subpoenaed for the trial that never happened. just reading the documents was gut wrenching.

    • Lori says:

      You’re right – we can’t do everything or protect everyone. But it’s easy to become complacent because we feel like nothing will ever change. I know that we are all doing what we can. I’m sorry you had to read the documentation on the Station. I still remember the morning I woke up and turned on the TV to learn of that fire. I never turn on the TV in the morning but that day I did and I was sick about it. Yesterday morning I woke up to a text from my husband about the Brazil fire (I was away with my girlfriends). Again – sick. Incredibly sad. Let’s just keep doing all we can.

  7. Dave Bishton says:

    Clear exit paths are occasionally regarded as “inconvenient” during project design stages, and some owners chafe “Why do we need THAT many exit doors, corridors, etc.?” That is the time for design professionals to say a lot more more than just, “That’s what the code requires.” Owners that come away feeling inconvenienced by exit requirements may also be more likely to be lax when maintaining them.

    It’s at least an opportunity for design professionals to further the cause of building safety, especially in these occupancies where crowds and excitement are regarded as the best possible environment for business.

    • Lori says:

      I read an article today that said the building actually met code regarding the number of exits. If that’s true, I think Brazil needs to evaluate their codes.

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