How many of you have heard, “If we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it?” A recent nightclub fire in Brazil that claimed the lives of over 200 people was eerily similar to the Rhode Island fire that claimed the lives of 100 people in 2003. I know that many will say that since this occurred on another continent that we cannot compare the two; I beg to differ. Both fires were caused by pyrotechnics used by the bands that were performing. Reports from the Brazil fire stated that the pyrotechnics used were designed for outdoor use only. Another similarity to the two fires was a fire extinguisher issue. In Brazil, it was stated that the extinguishers were not adequate. My take on that is there were either not enough or not the right size and type or a combination of issues. If you will remember, attempts were made to fight the fire in Rhode Island with extinguishers, without success. A third similarity was that this nightclub was packed with people, possibly even overcrowded, with people that were under the influence of alcohol. Further reports stated that bouncers, who believed that people were attempting to leave without paying for their drinks, blocked the exit doors. All of this added up to a tragic scenario where a senseless loss of lives occurred.
So let’s try to learn some things from this fire. First of all, you must have an exit plan for every building that you enter. I would venture to say that most people give this no thought whatsoever. Where are the exits? Are they locked or blocked? In our county, no exit can be locked or blocked when there are people in the building. If you are in a mass of people, what will you do? Once the stampede began, I am quite sure that the exits became blocked with people, and many were probably trampled. Another thing to keep in mind is that things change when a building is full of smoke or engulfed by a rapidly growing fire. Bottom line; develop an exit plan wherever you go.
Let’s talk fire extinguishers for a moment. Fire extinguishers are designed for small fires, especially in the hands of a novice. A novice is defined as any untrained individual. The Brazil fire probably spread as fast as the Rhode Island fire, rapidly becoming too much for fire extinguishers. The problem is that people, especially those under the influence of alcohol, have no thought about a fire extinguisher. As I continue to tell you, your job, when you find yourself in a burning building, is to get out and stay out! If you should choose to use a fire extinguisher, remember the word P.A.S.S.- Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep the nozzle at the base of the fire. Evacuation must occur at the beginning of an event, not after attempts have been made to fight a fire.
Though these two incidents were nine years apart, I believe that they were the devastating outcome of bad decisions that go on, in numerous settings, more frequently than we know. These establishments are there to make money, and they make money by drawing people. Fire safety has never been at the forefront of people’s thinking until after a devastating fire occurs. It is then that everyone wants answers. The answer is that stupidity will continue to ensure job security for firefighters, as well as claim the lives of many, in the prime of their lives.