More and more tragic details are emerging about the fire that killed 231 people in a Brazilian disco this week. Safety procedures were not followed, and experts confirm that inspections in Brazil are often careless.
Brazil is in shock. On Saturday night, 231 people died at a student night at a disco in the southern university town of Santa Maria. Most of them died by asphyxiation. The band Gurizada Fandangueira had lit a flare during a pyrotechnic display in their show that apparently ignited the acoustic insulation material attached to the ceiling. Flames and highly toxic smoke filled the air in seconds.
More details came to light a day after the accident. The nightclub, named "Kiss," had failed to maintain its safety precautions - fire extinguishers did not work, and the owner of the club did not have a valid permit. The public was outraged by these facts, but experts say that such problems are widespread in Brazil.
"The safety checks in Brazilian discotheques and bars are inadequate," said José Roberto Bernasconi, president of the São Paulo architects and engineers' union SINAECO.
The "Kiss" owner's permit had lapsed in 2012 and had not been renewed. "The city administration issues the license. But before that the fire authorities and other institutions inspect the building," explained Bernasconi.
Agostinho Guerreiro, president of the Rio de Janeiro-based architects and engineers association CREA, believes the main problem lies in the organization of events. "Of course the inspections could be more rigorous," he said. "But the main thing is that the preparation for events needs to be better. Someone needs to ascertain whether fire will be used in a show, and then appropriate precautions need to be taken. On top of that, the emergency exits need to be tested. It is very regrettable that this is not yet taken for granted."
Not only was the insulation material on the ceiling of the nightclub not flame retardant, but the emergency rescue workers were not prepared for the situation. People were even prevented from fleeing the burning club by employees, because they had not yet paid their bill.
"This shows the insufficient preparations of the emergency services and the whole club," said Guerreiro. "If there had been a thoroughly worked-out emergency escape plan, there probably wouldn't have been tragedy of this proportion."
Guerreiro said that cinemas, theaters, and football stadiums in Brazil are much better prepared and organized - they had, he said, learned from past mistakes. "Trained personnel need to be on hand especially where young people gather and alcoholic drinks are served," he added.
Strict rules, poor enforcement
It is not the case that Brazil has no safety regulations. Indeed, the rules that govern the prevention and fighting of fires are very strict. The Brazilian National Standards Organization (ABNT) lists more than 60 rules that need to be followed during the construction of a new building.
"For example, you cannot have just one exit, there must be emergency exits and escape doors," said Bernasconi. "It makes sense to have at least one extra exit that is big enough for the number of people who would normally be in the building. But the reality is different - "Kiss" had only one emergency exit, it was reportedly locked.