A crowd stands outside the Kiss nightclub during a fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, early Sunday. / Roger Shlossmacker, AP
Upon learning of the tragic nightclub fire early Sunday in Brazil, in which more than 230 people were killed, I experienced not only shock and sadness -- but anger. How often have we heard about similar tragedies before?
A rock band ignites pyrotechnics in an overcrowded nightclub. Soundproofing on ceiling and walls catch fire. Merriment turns into puzzlement, then panic, then horror. In minutes, hundreds of young lives are snuffed out.
Those of us who were touched by Rhode Island's The Station nightclub fire in 2003, in which 100 people were killed, ache for the families of Brazil's Kiss nightclub fire victims, and insist that the stories of their deaths be told -- again.
The mere retelling of these tragic stories, however, is of scant use if no useful lessons can be drawn from it. Nightclub fires here and abroad must, if nothing else, force us to examine how these tragedies occur and to correct the causes before they happen again.
It's often said that disasters of the scope of the Brazil and Rhode Island nightclub fires do not occur because just one thing is done wrong; rather, they are usually the result of many mistakes. From all reports, that appears to be true. Both fires were the result of multiple tragic acts, the absence of any one of which might have avoided the tragedy.
I represented survivors and families in the Rhode Island case, so I know very well many of the reasons for The Station nightclub fire. As I review the preliminary reporting on the list of blunders in Brazil, I am shocked by the similarities between the two fires: Improper use of indoor pyrotechnics; flammable wall and ceiling coverings; gross overcrowding; inadequate fire suppression devices such as automatic sprinklers; inadequate exits; poorly trained club staff.
Every one of the above failures was motivated, in part, by greed. The desire to sell more tickets, to sell spectacle, to save money on decorations and soundproofing, and to employ bouncers cheaply -- all contributed to the loss of life in Rhode Island -- and probably in Brazil, too.
If we're to learn from these tragedies, here are some concrete suggestions: It's not enough to enact fire codes; they must be enforced. Club owners should be required, as part of the permit process, to train their staff to direct patrons to the exits in the event of an emergency. (Reportedly, staff in both Rhode Island and Brazil barred patrons from available exits.) There should be stiff penalties for exceeding the occupancy rate of a venue. It's too tempting for club owners to sell as many tickets as possible. If the penalty for overcrowding is harsh enough to be a true deterrent, lives may be saved.
Thankfully, Rhode Island strengthened both its fire code and its enforcement practices in the wake of The Station fire. Older buildings with occupancies over 300 will no longer be "grandfathered" out of the requirement for sprinklers. Pre-show announcements of available exits are now required. In New England, and elsewhere, club owners will think twice before allowing pyrotechnics anywhere near their venues. In short, there's a heightened awareness that fires can still be deadly in places of public assembly.
Today, the survivors and families I worked with in Rhode Island know all too well the sorrow the survivors and the families in Brazil are facing at this moment and the emotional toll they will be coping with in the months and years ahead.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my experience in this case was that we all need to be aware that we cannot count on bands, concert promoters, club owners, bouncers -- or even fire officials -- to ensure our safety. We need to be our own best fire marshals. To be safe, go with your gut. If it feels wrong, or dangerous, leave. No show is worth your life.
Only if we take to heart the hard lessons of these disasters, insisting on responsible business practices by promoters and rigorous enforcement of fire protection codes at the local level, and personal awareness, will we be able to avoid future nightclub tragedies like Brazil's.
John P. Barylick is a trial lawyer at Wistow, Barylick, Sheehan & Loveley PC, and is the author of Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America's Deadliest Rock Concert.
In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions
from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors.
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Brazil fire a reminder of R.I. blaze: Column