'Kiss' nightclub fire highlights Brazil's meagre safety laws
By Marco Sibaja, APSANTA MARIA, Brazil -- Flammable and toxic foam soundproofing on the ceiling. Just one exit for a large club that could hold hundreds of people. Not a ceiling water sprinkler system in sight.
January 31, 2013, 10:57 am TWN
These are some of the main causes of the massive death toll in a nightclub fire in Brazil — and none broke any law, raising questions about 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 Kiss club, where 234 people died within minutes in a fire early Sunday, showed that such deadly choices were within regulations.
“Do I agree with the fact that there was only one exit? No. Do I agree that the roof was covered with flammable material? No, I don't,” said Maj. Gerson Pereira, an inspector with the local fire department. “I would have liked to shut down this place, but then the firefighters could be sued” because no law had been broken.
But the same documents also illustrate that other regulations were broken, including irregularities in the fire safety inspection of the club, as well as violations by the band the club hired whose pyrotechnics are blamed for causing the blaze. Police inspectors say any of these violations were reason enough to shut the club down.
One document shows that the club had already been labeled by fire officials as being at “medium” risk for having a fire. By state law, that designation requires that the club undergo annual inspections. But records show that the last inspection took place in August 2011.
Survivors of the fire have said that the club's fire extinguishers failed to work in early attempts to battle the blaze. Under state law, an extinguisher must have a receipt showing that it had been independently inspected within a year in order for it to be acceptable.
Marcelo Arigony, the lead police investigator in the case, said in a Tuesday press conference that it was clear the fire extinguishers had not been inspected and that they were clearly cheap models that should not be used anywhere.
Perhaps most egregious was what authorities point to as the cause of the fire.
The blaze began at around 2:30 a.m. local time during a performance by Gurizada Fandangueira, a country music band that had made the use of pyrotechnics a trademark of their shows. The band's guitarist told media that the 615-square-meter (6,650-square-foot) club was packed with an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people, the same estimate police have given. Capacity for the club, however, is under 700.
Police said that members of the band knowingly bought flares meant for outdoor use because they cost a mere US$1.25 a piece, compared with the US$35 price tag for an indoor flare.
“It's not that this club was working to come within this or that law — the place should have never been open in the first place,” Arigony said. “This is a problem that is seen across Brazil, these laws. I can only hope this tragedy brings about change.”