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Fire Kills 234 in Brazil–Demonstrates Tragic Pattern of Failing to Learn from History

Last weekend, 234 died in a fire which broke out in a crowded nightclub in Brazil. The sixth such fire in a decade, the tragedy highlights the importance of business owners and fire safety professionals applying lessons learned from previous mistakes to avoid repeating similar disasters. Fires in China, Russia, Argentina, Thailand and the U.S. should have provided plenty of important fire-safety lessons for club owners in Brazil to apply. Had they studied those fires, they could have avoided the most recent nightclub fire-related tragedy.

Rhode Island: A popular rock band took the stage at a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island in 2003. The show included dangerous pyrotechnics which set fire to flammable soundproofing foam that lined the walls and ceiling—killing 100 and injuring 200.

Argentina: A December 2004 fire killed 194 people at an overcrowded working-class nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after a flare ignited ceiling foam.

China: Fireworks shot off at a birthday party at a Latin-style bar and restaurant in China’s Fujian province sparked a fire which claimed 15 lives in January, 2009.

Russia, 2009: Fireworks triggered a blaze at a nightclub in Perm, Russia in December, 2009, killing 156 people. The fire began after an indoor fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches.

Thailand: A fire swept through a popular nightclub on the Thai island of Phuket killing four people in early August, 2012.

One survivor of the Rhode Island fire, Todd King, reportedly woke up on Sunday morning by a storm of text messages from fellow survivors of the Rhode Island blaze, all asking, “Can you believe this is happening again?”

King is indignant—“I’m surprised nobody has learned.”

Another Rhode Island survivor, Victoria Eagan, observed that several fires since the 2003 tragedy have been caused by indoor pyrotechnics igniting materials in the building in recent years, “We seem doomed to repeat history. I wish (people) could learn.”

Thus far, investigators say the source of the blaze in Brazil was a band’s small pyrotechnics’ show. The fire and toxic smoke created by burning foam sound insulation material on the ceiling engulfed the Brazilian club within seconds.  Authorities said band members who were on the stage confirmed their use of pyrotechnics during the show.

The fact nightclub owners have failed to learn is especially disconcerting because, after the Rhode Island blaze, sweeping changes were made to that state’s fire code, with the intention of preventing similar occurrences in the future. Rhode Island fire stations shared a common goal and battle cry: “Never again!”

As a result of associated fire code changes:

  1. Sprinklers are now required in nightclubs and bars with occupancy limits of 100 or more.
  2. Nightclub workers must be trained in fire safety.
  3. Money was set aside for additional fire safety classes in schools.
  4. Pyrotechnics were banned in all but large public venues.
  5. Local fire marshals were empowered to order immediate repairs and write tickets for violations.

In an emailed statement, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, which is building a memorial to those affected by the Rhode Island fire, compared the two tragedies, “One cannot help but notice the similarities between this tragedy and the Station nightclub fire that occurred nearly 10 years ago.”

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