Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
January 30, 2013

Download

State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

Lessons to Be Learned From Brazil Nightclub Fire

A catalogue of fire safety failures may have contributed to the deaths of more than 230 people in the nightclub fire in Santa Maria, southern Brazil, in the early hours of January 27.

Firefighters reportedly had to smash their way through the front and side walls of the burning Kiss nightclub because the only exit was blocked. There were no windows or lateral or rear exits from the club, which had a capacity of 1,000 people.

In addition, there were insufficient emergency exits, fire extinguishers and back-up lighting, according to The Guardian.

The club’s operating permit from the fire department had expired in August and was in the process of being renewed.

Amid the smoke and panic, many of the club-goers, who mainly comprised university students, appear to have mistaken toilet signs for emergency exits and were found by firefighters piled up in the toilets, overcome by toxic smoke.

The New York Times reported that a fire extinguisher, which a security guard tried to aim at the blaze on the stage of the nightclub, did not work. The sole exit door was initially blocked by security guards as people tried desperately to escape.

Fireworks had been allowed on stage and were thought to be a possible cause of the blaze that started during the onstage pyrotechnic show of the performing band, Gurizada Fandangueira. It is thought a machine used by the band to create a luminous effect with sparks may have set the acoustic foam insulation on the ceiling alight.

More than 80 survivors remain in a critical condition, some with burns, many with lung damage from inhaling the toxic fumes, and others with injuries sustained in the stampede to escape the blaze. Most of the victims appeared to have died from smoke inhalation rather than burns, or were crushed as they tried to get out of the burning club.

Two owners of the nightclub and two members of the band have been arrested, as police begin their investigation into the fire, Brazil’s worst in more than 50 years.

Safety lessons had apparently not been learned from previous fires in entertainment venues, such as in Rhode Island in 2003, Argentina in 2004, and Russia in 2009. At least 100 people died in each of these fires.

After the Rhode Island fire, strict fire laws were adopted, applying to both old and new places of entertainment, ABC News reported.

The new code insists on public announcements being made before events, pointing out the locations of emergency exits. In many venues, sprinklers and alarm systems have been installed, fixtures and fittings treated to be fire resistant, and multiple exit signs provided, including in the floors of premises.

Local fire inspectors now receive more comprehensive training and conduct an increased number of inspections. By law, emergency plans must be in place and fire exits checked before and during any show.

Meanwhile London Fire Brigade has issued a reminder to owners of nightclubs pubs and restaurants to not be complacent about fire safety.

Steve Turek, the London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Regulation, said:

“The events in Brazil this weekend are a tragedy but they should act as a stark reminder to all business owners, and especially nightclub owners, that there is no room for complacency when it comes to fire safety. Businesses must be able to show that they have thought about how they will keep people safe if the worst should happen and they do have a fire.”

2023 Fire Safety eBook – Grab your free copy!

Download the Fire Safety in 2023 eBook, keeping you up to date with the biggest news and prosecution stories from around the industry. Chapters include important updates such as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and an overview of the new British Standard for the digital management of fire safety information.

Plus, we explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.

FireSafetyeBook-CoverPage-23
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
25 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
saulsherry
saulsherry
January 30, 2013 10:31 am

Hi @Cherry, good take on a terrible tragedy. One thing that occurs to me is how much learning can actually spread from these horrible events. There are lessons learned, which we might use to bolster policy and products here… but what of the rest of Brazil (and other emerging economies) – are they likely to have the time, impetus and funds for improvement, or do we stand to learn while they are destined to make the same mistakes over again?

Terry Sweeney
Terry Sweeney
January 30, 2013 10:45 am

How can any establishment with a single exit get any kind of permit or license to operate? It seems like the facts and conditions are still trickling in from this horrific event, but this is a wakeup call for enforcement around the world.

TomMurphy
TomMurphy
January 30, 2013 11:03 am

Safety codes are one thing, and enforcement of codes is another. Too often cities have strict codes that are routinely ignored because there is insufficient resource for governments to enforce the laws they enact.  In this case, as noted herein, there were a litany of obvious violations — and they reminded me of the horror stories of similar stories of the past about disasters in night clubs and factories, dating back to the Flat Iron Factory fire in New York a century ago.  A single inspector would have noted the many deficiencies in Brazil in a moment, and saved all… Read more »

JimC
JimC
January 30, 2013 11:06 am

Every time I read about something like this I am stunned and ashamed that we haven’t learned our lessons. Having grown up not far from Boston I’ve read a lot about the Coconut Grove fire (500 dead), which was supposed to have led to building codes that would prevent issues like single exits, sole reliance on revolving doors, and flammable decorations. Coconut Grove was before my time, but I worked with people who were there that night, and they never got over what they saw. Decades later, I knew people who lost friends among the 100 people killed in the… Read more »

saulsherry
saulsherry
January 30, 2013 11:16 am
Reply to  JimC

– absolutely. The only approach that makes sense is a hardline proactive one. If these terrible events aren’t enough for all establishments to sit up and take notice, we’ll have to get the authorities handing out some hefty fine… or better yet, just shutting the non-compliant down.

Security101
Security101
January 30, 2013 11:30 am

Watching the reports on the fire over the weekend, not only was I struck by the tragedy of such needless loss of life, but as a security professional, I wondered if this will impact the security measures put in place before the 2016 Olympics. In the UK, there’s obviously a high committment to adhering to the latest legislation, as well as ensuring safe practices and anti-terror measures, which led to a largely smooth execution of the 2012 event. Do we think that this tragedy for Brazil will make the government re-examine their security and fire prevention and protection methods in… Read more »

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 30, 2013 12:15 pm
Reply to  JimC

Too often though, it takes a tragedy in that place to learn. We’re seeing tragedies on this scale in Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, all over the world. It seems everyone needs their own tragedy to finally learn lessons from. A grim lesson to have to learn though.

gerry_dunphy
gerry_dunphy
January 30, 2013 12:16 pm

Great piece Cherry, I was shocked to see these picures at the weekend particularly in a country such as Brazil. The presumption that economic growth equates to high life safety is clearly not linked. In view of this and the devastating fire in Karachi last year is there a role for the UN to promote best practice fire safety and guidance to its members? Obviously the legislation and enforcement is a national issue but it seems incongruous that a country like Pakistan- which is after all a nuclear power- has such feeble and dangerous fire safety measures. The tragedy was… Read more »

JimC
JimC
January 30, 2013 12:40 pm
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

My concern is that we don’t seem to be learning our lessons. It’s not just that disasters in Brazil and Pakistan should be waking up officials there. We aren’t doing enough in places like the US, where these tragedies keep happening, and we keep saying we will do something about it. Yet, looking at an unofficial list of US disasters there have been at least a dozen US fires in nightclubs, schools, hospitals and the like that have killed 50 or more since we learned our lessons with Coconut Grove. Toss in incidents like the walkway collapse at the KC… Read more »

Sarah Reedy
Sarah Reedy
January 30, 2013 1:37 pm
Reply to  TomMurphy

Tom, that was my thought while reading this too. It’s such a terrible tragedy, and one that certainly calls for stricter policiies, but that requires the club owners to comply. Enforcing the codes will be the hard part, and I imagine many club owners choose to ignore them. (Although, you would think if you’re going to ignore the codes, you at least wouldn’t let pyrotechnics in your club, but I guess that wasn’t the case.) Very sad. 

TomMurphy
TomMurphy
January 30, 2013 1:45 pm
Reply to  Sarah Reedy

Sarah: Leaving it up to club owners to enforce safety codes is like leaving it up to drivers to enforce the speed limit — it just won’t happen.  You need cops/fire marshals/inspectors to stick their heads in the door and say, “Woh, boys! Unlock that door, light up the exit sign, and fireworks? Fuhgetaboutit!” Most jurisdisctions pay for this by making the club owners pay for the monitors. Some assign it to the regular responsibibilities of fire brigades. In situations like this, it’s clear this is a worthwhile expense. Anytime the public gathers for a public event, there must be someone present to… Read more »

JimC
JimC
January 30, 2013 2:04 pm
Reply to  TomMurphy

Tom, great point about having the public see something/say something.

Sarah Reedy
Sarah Reedy
January 30, 2013 2:45 pm
Reply to  TomMurphy

Ah yes, that’s true. I wasn’t sure how often inspections occured or how easily it would be to fly under the radar. Having the public get involved seems like a smart idea. If they keep an eye on violations and report them, it could decrease the response time and prevent tragedies like this. My first instinct in large, crowded venues is to locate the emergency exits. My second should probably be to tell someone if I can’t find them. 

jbosavage
jbosavage
January 30, 2013 6:05 pm
Reply to  Sarah Reedy

The sole exit door was initially blocked by security guards as people tried desperately to escape.
What? Why is that? I don’t understand — wouldn’t the guards want to get out as well?

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
January 30, 2013 11:34 pm
Reply to  jbosavage

I expect the guards did not know there was a fire. 

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
January 30, 2013 11:37 pm
Reply to  TomMurphy

Yeah, I thought of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire when I heard the doors had been blocked to prevent chicanery. The exact same thing happened a century ago, for similar reasons, with similar tragic results. 
I learned a few year’s ago that my uncle-by-marriage’s aunt was peripherally involved in that fire. She either escaped from the building, or was scheduled to work that day and didn’t come in. I’m hazy on the details, and alas my aunt (who I heard the story from) has passed away. 

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 31, 2013 9:36 am
Reply to  Mitch Wagner

Speaking of guards blocking the way, I’m reminded of the fire in Honduras in February that killed 350. I was interested at the time to find out what policy prisons in the UK had to evacuate prisoners in an emergency. Funnily enough, they weren’t too keen to tell me how to let everyone out:
“We have robust measures in place to deal with the risks posed by fire in our prisons.
“Each prison also carries out regular fire risk assessments to ensure staff, prisoners and visitors are as safe as possible.”
 

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
January 31, 2013 10:40 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

Sounds to me like the UK didn’t want people to know about fire escape procedures for fear that prisoners would use the information to escape. 
A valid concern — but can the prisoners be safely evacuated if they haven’t been through fire drills?

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
January 31, 2013 11:17 am
Reply to  Mitch Wagner

I wasn’t expecting a map with an explanation saying ‘we keep the button that lets everyone out in the warden’s office, just under his desk’ but something a little more instructive might have been nice!

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
January 31, 2013 11:22 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

For good or ill, the default mode for law enforcement is to say nothing. Hopefully, they’re more open with prisoners about the information they need to save their lives in an emergency, but I doubt it. Maybe I’m cynical though. 

James Nash
James Nash
February 6, 2013 10:20 am

Surely products used in such a life endangering area should have beeen subject the the rigous of passive fire resistance?
The fact the sound proofing, an exposed material, seems to have been the main cause of the fire indicates to me that this might be a good place to start if the authorities seek to bring in tighter regulations.
It goes without saying that the lack of working extinguishers, blocked exits and simple over capacity are also flat out outrageous.

SunitaT
SunitaT
March 2, 2013 6:49 am
Reply to  Sarah Reedy

Enforcing the codes will be the hard part, and I imagine many club owners choose to ignore them.
, I totally agree with you. Unfortunately club owners are more worried about the profit and they are least worried about the saftey and security measures they need to implement. I think government strictly enforce the security measures and  should cancel the licenses of the club owners who fail to comply with the safety policies.

Sheh
Sheh
March 4, 2013 9:51 am
Reply to  Terry Sweeney

@ Terry , I endorse your point of permitting single exit by the licensing authorities. There is criminal. Had there been more number of exits, some more lives could have been saved. There is a basic principle that there should be clear and elaborate exit points for any building. Infact they are catered for emergent situations like outbreak of fire etc. Even if people had to exit from single entry …due to bomb scare or something… lives could be lost with stampede. There is huge requirement of fire codes implementation. The building control regulartory authorities should have taken notice of… Read more »

ITs_Hazel
ITs_Hazel
March 13, 2013 2:50 am
Reply to  James Nash

You’re right, James. A number of safety violations contributed to the fire but as you said, it seems like the sound proofing is a good way to start. They are outrageous and it would lead me to wonder about the fire and building regulations in Brazil. And aside from that, are there any government agencies or teams that make sure they are being implemented or followed?

ITs_Hazel
ITs_Hazel
March 13, 2013 2:52 am
Reply to  SunitaT

You’re right, and it’s a shame. People go to clubs to have fun; not to die. Safety regulations are often neglected or ignored for the sake of bigger profits and faster construction. They had fireworks on stage? Seriously? There are so many things that could go wrong here, and go wrong they did when the fire set the club ablaze.