Brazil blaze grim reminder of Station fire

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brazilThe fire set ablaze at Kiss nightclub in the college town of Santa Maria, Brazil has brought back memories of The Station nightclub fire whose ten year mark is on February 20th. The death toll in Brazil has risen to 237 dead while another 101 remain hospitalized since January 27th. This easily eclipses the number that died ten years ago in Rhode Island by more than double the amount. Nevertheless the fires were both caused by misuse of pyrotechnics.

Police reported that the fire spread in seconds after the band had let off a flare that was meant for outdoor use. The fire started around 2 a.m. when flames spread quickly over the ceiling after the foam used for soundproofing caught fire. The burning of the acoustic insulation released toxic fumes. Some perished due to asphyxiation from those toxic fumes which became concentrated in the bathrooms while others became trapped or trampled. Investigators say that many lives could have been saved if safety regulations were properly followed.

There are a few issues that caused the number of deaths to be so significant. The first being that the club’s bouncers had thought that there had been a fight so they closed the doors to ensure that people were not skipping out on their bar tabs. Their refusal ignited a panic amongst the crowd which worsened the situation. The other two problems, perhaps the most important, are that the club was well beyond capacity and there was only one exit.

At the time of the fire there were approximately 2,000 people inside the club which is double the maximum capacity of 1,000. Many deaths were caused by students running towards what they thought were exits but turned out to be the bathrooms. In addition, it had been very difficult to find a way out because there were no exit signs over the doors. The only exit was the front door which was insufficient at getting people out. Firefighters had to break down the walls in order to increase the flow of people exiting. This was certainly a tragedy filled with the loss of many young lives reminding us of The Station nightclub fire ten years ago in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The situations are eerily similar as well.

The town of Santa Maria is home to many colleges and universities. The students at the Kiss nightclub were celebrating the end of the summer with classes starting the following day. This month marks ten years since the Station nightclub fire. That fire was also started by pyrotechnics being set off on stage which set the foam insulation used for soundproofing ablaze. Within minutes more than two-thirds of the 462 people in attendance were killed or injured (100 dead, 230 injured). The issues were (1) hazardous mix of building contents, (2) failure to suppress the fire during its early stage of growth, and (3) the inability of the exits to handle all of the occupants in the short time available.

Brazil has already begun to take action and is following in the footsteps of Rhode Island
by beginning to adopt tougher fire and safety regulations. A safety inspection of nightclubs, restaurants, and bars has led to more than 150 temporary closures in the past week. This has raised concern for World Cup which is set to take place in 2014 as well as the Olympics in 2016.

Brazil’s congress is set to revise legislation in an attempt to strengthen regulations and alleviate concerns. Since The Station fire, Rhode Island has adopted fire regulations that officials praise as the toughest in the nation. Being students at Bryant University, we catch a glimpse into these regulations through the numerous items that are prohibited from our dorm rooms.

On a larger scale Rhode Island has required nightclubs to install sprinklers as well as exit signs near the floor so that a way out is visible to those crawling through a smoky room. In addition, fire marshals have the ability to visit any nightclub during hours of operation and immediately close any that are violating the code. It is sad that tragedies like these must occur in order for safety measures to be put into place. Just remember the next time you go to a club or concert, have a plan.

 

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