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.
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.”
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?