Brazil Clubs Still Unsafe

One year after Brazil’s deadly Kiss nightclub blaze that killed 242 people, and just months before the World Cup packs clubs with tourists and locals, very little has been done to increase fire safety in that country.

Photo: Agencia RBS/AP Photo
A man carries an injured man, victim of a fire at the Kiss club in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil.

Officials vowed “never again” in the wake of the Jan. 27, 2013 inferno, which suffocated most of its victims with toxic smoke that filled a windowless bunker of a club that had but one point of ingress and egress.

With the World Cup taking place across 12 Brazilian cities in June, including Santa Maria where the club was located, fears of another tragedy are ramping up.

No level of government has taken concrete steps in the last year to improve safety or enforce existing fire codes.

“At first, we had this national uproar and many plans to make changes,” said Rodrigo Tavares, a Brazilian private engineer and fire-safety consultant. “However, in practical terms, the situation of security and fire protection remains the same.”

Tavares says the most important step is the passage of a national fire safety code to impose and enforce the same standards across Brazil, which gives states the right to determine their own codes and cities the power to enforce them and issue permits.

Much of the country is at the mercy of poorly trained and overtaxed inspectors working in a corrupted system where bribes are commonplace.

Santa Maria congressman Paulo Pimenta has been unsuccessful pushing a national fire safety bill since the blaze.

His bill would force buildings to install more emergency exits, which are rarely used in many parts of Brazil, and ensure that materials like the soundproofing in the Kiss club are non-flammable and approved by government regulators.

Pimenta’s bill would make it easier to hold local officials accountable for approving inadequate fire plans for clubs, hotels and other establishments.

While the Santa Maria mayor’s office and fire department say they’ve stepped up inspections in the city, they’re waiting on the state legislature or national congress to put into action any stiffer safety demands.

“Justice hasn’t been done, and until it is this culture of impunity will win out. Nobody will have learned any lessons because nobody will be punished,” said Douglas Medeiros, a university student whose girlfriend died in the fire. “Here in Santa Maria, there have been no changes to the law, nothing that would force officials to feel compelled to really take action.”