Our Global Challenge
NFPA Journal®, March/April 2013
The first reports of a deadly fire in Brazil in January sounded all too familiar: an overcrowded nightclub, pyrotechnics, a raging fire, no sprinklers, too few exits, horrific losses. The fire at the Kiss club in the city of Santa Maria ultimately claimed more than 230 lives and injured hundreds more.
YOUTUBE VIDEO CLIP
NFPA president James Shannon explains why sprinklers would have helped save lives at the Kiss Nightclub Fire in Brazil.
Ten years ago, a fire at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island killed 100 people. The similarities between the Kiss and Station fires are striking: too many people were crammed into too small an area in violation of legal limits; there were no fire sprinklers; untreated polyurethane foam was used for soundproofing and contributed to the spread of the fires; and the fires were caused by incendiary devices used by bands as part of their acts.
Since the Station fire, similar events have occurred all over the world. In 2009, an indoor pyrotechnics display started a fire in a nightclub in Bangkok, Thailand, that killed more than 60 people and injured scores. That same year, more than 150 died when pyrotechnics sparked a fire in a club in Perm, Russia. In 2004, a patron shot a flare in the Cromagnon nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing almost 200. The same questions were asked after each event: How could this happen? How can we make sure it never happens again?
Soon after The Station fire, NFPA convened its Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies and adopted numerous code changes including lowering the occupancy threshold for when fire sprinklers are required. We were also very active in getting the word out on how dangerous nightclubs can be if special care isn’t taken to make them safe. We have made progress at getting states to strengthen their fire codes, and many communities have stepped up their enforcement.
The Kiss fire was a national tragedy in Brazil. The president left a summit meeting of Latin American leaders to return to the country to help the survivors and the rest of the public through the ordeal. The media rushed to gather facts and help the public understand what had happened, and they found much of what they needed at NFPA. Since The Station fire, we have maintained a trove of information about nightclub fires that was widely cited in the Brazilian media. NFPA staff were interviewed and quoted on Brazilian TV and in newspapers.
But we will not stop there. Our mission is not just to collect historical and technical information about fires but to do what we can to prevent these events from being repeated. We have been asked to provide technical advice to the State of Rio de Janeiro as it revises its fire code, and we are sending technical staff there to help as officials review their codes. We hope we can provide similar help across Brazil, including in the state of Rio Grande de Sul where Santa Maria is located.
NFPA’s mission is to save lives and protect property from fire and other hazards. It is disheartening to see tragedies like these, because we know that the lessons learned from our past experiences can prevent them. Technology has made it much easier for NFPA to reach people in every corner of the world, and it has also made it our obligation to work even harder to make NFPA a global force for fire safety.