Do you know if there are fire alarms in Mary Ann’s? Do you where the fire escapes are in Cityside? Do you know how many, if any, sprinklers there are in the House of Blues?
No fire alarms. No fire escapes. No sprinklers. A broken fire extinguisher. A place filled far beyond its permissible capacity. These were the dangerous conditions that resulted in the tragic fire at Kiss Nightclub early the morning of Jan. 27. The fire that has left 235 people dead and the southern Brazilian college town of Santa Maria distraught. According to Brazil’s health ministry, 74 people remain hospitalized and in critical condition.
Authorities believe that the fire at Kiss began due to the pyrotechnics show of the band performing there, Gurizada Fandangueira. They specifically believe that the band’s spark machine is what caused it. Most of the young people who died in the fire were suffocated by toxic fumes or trampled over by desperate clubgoers running toward the prospect of survival at the club’s exit.
The harrowing stories that escaped the fire’s wrath have been as numerous as they are disturbing. There are those who remember stepping on others to save themselves. Those who remember the ones who sacrificed their lives to preserve their own. Those who feel guilty for having survived.
The party at Kiss had been organized by college students from the Federal University of Santa Maria. Such organized university parties are common throughout Brazil. As college students in the United States, what do we think about when we go out? Do we think about our safety beyond getting too drunk or taken advantage of?
It is easy to say that what happened in Brazil is far away, but it is also a lie. The nightclubs in both Brazil and the United States are supposed to abide by certain safety codes. In Brazil, nightclubs should have one fire extinguisher per every 1500 square feet and many emergency exits. They should also not fill themselves beyond capacity. It is obvious that Kiss nightclub chose to disregard Brazilian safety codes as they pertain to nightclubs. If safety codes were ignored there, they can be ignored here too.
On February 20, 2003, there was the Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island that resulted in the deaths of 100 people. The fire was caused by the pyrotechnics display of the band performing at Station Nightclub, Great White. Club owners claimed that they had not given band members the permission to use pyrotechnics when the club was not made to withstand them. Band members claimed that they had.
Perhaps the next time we want to go out to a new place, we will call ahead of time to ask a few questions. Do you have fire alarms and escapes? Do you allow bands to use pyrotechnics? What is your maximum capacity, and do you take extra care not to fill beyond it? Perhaps the next time we go to Mary Ann’s or Cityside, we will look around for a fire extinguisher. Tragedies are not necessarily isolated events.