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Community Focus
by Tom Kiurski

Teaching moment: Nightclubs and public fire safety

Use information from the tragic nightclub fires as a means to get the fire-safety message home to your public

By Tom Kiurski

As people from all over watched the frightening scenes from one of the world's deadliest nightclub fires, everyone whispers and hopes it won't happen again, especially here.

The blaze killed more than 230 people in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria. Conditions that contributed to the large loss of life include overcrowding and indoor pyrotechnics that sparked foam insulation. As mobs of people moved toward a lone, temporarily blocked exit, bodies began piling up as toxic fumes suffocated partiers.

As sad as this situation is, this happens time and time again. In Perm, Russia in 2009, a blaze at the Lame Horse nightclub broke out when an indoor fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches; that fire killed 152. 

A fire broke out at an overcrowded nightclub in December 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina after a flare ignited ceiling foam. A fire in Louang, China in December 2000 tore through a disco, killing 309 people. In Quezon City, Philippines, a fire at the Ozone disco killed 162 people, many of them celebrating the end of the school year. 

Many in the fire service are familiar with a fire here in the U. S. that broke out in February 2003 at The Station nightclub. The band's opening number included a pyrotechnic display, which ignited illegal soundproofing, causing the death of 100 people.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of that fire.

In some cases, there were an insufficient number of exits. In others, there were adequate exits, but many people passed exits to take the familiar front door exit that they used to enter the structure, leading to the logjam conditions that delayed their escape. 

While our residents often go to busy venues to visit the auto show, watch a favorite band play or see a movie, we have to remind them to make note of all of the exits in the building. Teach them that the closest exit may not be the one they used to enter, and the closest exit may be blocked by smoke or fire.

Many of the conditions that exist are not legal. Those situations that allow the fire to grow and spread rapidly should not be allowed, but unscrupulous business owners will often cut corners to save money. Don't put your residents' lives at risk due to their bad business decisions.

As your community members go out to restaurants and movies, tell them to take a look around and come up with an escape plan. Encourage them to take a few minutes and go over the exits and escape plans with their family members. In doing so, they just may be instilling the next generation of those who plan ahead and will be better prepared when tragedy strikes.

While firefighters know that smoke and heat will rise in a rapidly growing compartment fire, did you do your best to educate your community? Knowing this fact may save lives when smoke and heat begins to take its toll on the body. When they feel the heat bearing down on them, they need to know to drop down to the ground and continue moving in the direction of the nearest exit. Many think that crawling will slow their progress, but the conditions near the floor will help them to move faster.

No one wants to be faced with a deadly fire situation in a crowded place. Planning ahead and knowing what to do before tragedy strikes may be the difference between life and death. Use the recent deadly fire in Brazil and the anniversary of The Station fire as springboards to a safety lesson for your residents.
 

About the author

Tom Kiurski has been in the fire service since 1981. He is the Training Coordinator and Director of Fire Safety Education for Livonia, Mich., Fire & Rescue. He has served as a firefighter/paramedic, engineer and lieutenant prior to his appointment as the training coordinator. He has earned an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., a Bachelors Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Tom teaches fire service-related courses at local colleges and fire academies. He has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis seven times, as well as numerous state and local conferences. He has written more than 300 articles on fire safety education and training that have appeared in various fire service publications. Contact Tom at Tom.Kiurski@firerescue1.com.



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