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Club fire kills 236, provokes scrutiny of local club safety

In a nightlife venue, amidst dancing, live music and drinking, personal safety is often pushed to the back of the mind. Of course there is some sense in us; women know not to leave their drinks unattended, men avoid provocation of physical violence and all tend to travel in groups. But what about the safety codes and regulations of the club itself, and the well-being of the occupants as a whole?

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By Jasper Moedt (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: February 6, 2013

In a nightlife venue, amidst dancing, live music and drinking, personal safety is often pushed to the back of the mind. Of course there is some sense in us; women know not to leave their drinks unattended, men avoid provocation of physical violence and all tend to travel in groups. But what about the safety codes and regulations of the club itself, and the well-being of the occupants as a whole?

This question has been sharply brought to club frequenters’ attention with a vicious club fire in the college town of Santa Maria that left 236 dead and 126 injured last week. The fire—caused by an outdoor flare lit by the performing band—spread quickly through the club, knocking out the power and setting the club into darkness and a state of panic. The flare reportedly lit the noise proofing foam on the ceiling which spread across the club rapidly and set a toxic smoke into the air. Further contributing to the state of chaos was the lack of emergency escapes and that initially security tried to prevent the first escapees from leaving. In this particular club patrons run a tab and pay at the end of the night instead of paying per drink. This led to the club owners setting up measures so that patrons could not leave out emergency doors in an attempt to prevent individuals from skipping their tab.

To top everything off, the club was more than 300 people above capacity, with 1000 bodies filling a space that was slated at a 690 person maximum. The above conditions set up a life-sized funnel for patrons, forcing a stampede toward one exit.

As the country mourns this terrible tragedy the Brazilian authorities have already taken steps to identify potential culprits and individuals responsible for the series of safety oversights that led to this fire.

The first to be taken into custody were the two owners of the nightclub. In a club that did not have fire alarms, sprinkler systems or effective emergency escapes, there is clearly a huge amount of negligence on the part of the owners.

Also in custody are two members of the band playing that night. It has been reported the fire was caused by flares that were designated for outdoor use only, which obviously did not concern the band that proceeded to light them in a packed club anyway. All four of the parties will likely face manslaughter charges.

There is also an ongoing investigation into whether local fire and city officials were negligent to their duties in inspection of the club.

It is a tragedy that has provoked scrutiny of the safety of our own clubs. As the backlash and mourning continues in Brazil the world begins to take a look at its own safety standards and how it would fare in case of a disaster similar to this. Canadians seem to be largely protected. Stringent fire safety precautions and strict building codes make a disaster on this scale almost impossible.

Incidents like these on an international stage force us to appreciate the sometimes ridiculous-seeming regulations that are strictly enforced. Next time you are standing outside your favourite bar or nightclub on a cold northern night, take the time to think before complaining to the bouncer. He may be saving you a lot of grief by following those fire codes and holding the line at the door.

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