Monday, January 28, 2013

231 Killed: Learning from the Deadly Fire in Brazil

Tras el incendio que provocó la muerte de más de 233 personas, se conoció que la habilitación de la disco Kiss estaba vencida. (EFE)
Yesterday 231 people were killed in Brazil, victims of a fire that turned a nightclub into a death trap. The incident is similar to the República Cromañón fire that killed 194 people in 2004 in Argentina or “The Station” fire in USA in 2003, where 100 people died. We’re talking about hundreds of people dead at a time. All three cases took place in nightclubs during concerts, and in all three cases fireworks and special effects used by the band started the fire. In less than a minute, these nightclubs become true deathtraps.

It is not the first time this topic has been covered in this blog. Here’s a previous post called “Surviving a Fire”, in which these recommendations where given.  The first two tips would also help during a mass shooting when you want to leave a building ASAP.

Tips on what to do:

1)Always know two ways out of any room you enter. The obvious one is the one you entered through, get used to quickly picking up a second one, and keeping in mind which one is closest to you. In the case of “The Station” nightclub, people headed to the main entrance in spite of having emergency exits closer.

2) Be quick about it. Don’t be worried about looking silly or overreacting. Better to look dumb than dead. What if its nothing? Then there’s no problem, but at least you’ve exercised yourself into reacting, and whenever something does happen you will be moving instead of freezing up and losing valuable seconds.

3)Its almost impossible to avoid stomping and people causing human avalanches. Avoid them as much as you can. Remember the post on safety footware? This would be another example in which tough footware can protect you from people stepping on you, maybe injuring you or causing you to fall. When you fall, people will stomp you or fall over you forming a human plug in bottlenecks where several victims will be crushed to death. Safety footware is also rated to tolerate high temperatures better. That may be a key advantage when things heat up and you’re still looking for a way out.

4)Your hair can catch fire, soak it up if you can while hurrying away from danger, even with your drink if its not alcohol! A wet cloth, bandana or t-shirt can be used to protect your face and at least try to breathe better. Many times people die of suffocation in fires rather than burn alive.
Watch the video of “The Station” Nightclub fire in USA to see how in just a matter of seconds , 40 seconds to be precise, all hell just breaks lose.



Cingoldby said...

That is very scary. So sudden.

What really struck me was how badly so many of the people in the club reacted. Loud shrieking almost immediately, people milling around and blocking the exits.

Other peoples stupidity is even more dangerous than the actual fire.

Anonymous said...

I have to comment about one thing. DO NOT try to breathe through a wet cloth in a fire situation. Hot gasses are bad, but steam will kill you just as dead.

FerFAL said...

Hi Adam, Why are you recommending not to do so? Water vapor doesnt kill you. I'm sure you walked into a steam room sometime in your life.
seems that what kills most people in these kind of fires is the highly toxic smoke of burning plastic which is usually used for sound proofing nightclubs and other decorations. A wet cloth is often recommended to help breathe when there's lots of smoke. "Washcloth - Place the wet cloth over your mouth and nose to aid breathing in smoke-filled areas." http://www.toronto.ca/fire/prevention/fireinsky.htm

exit said...

Thanks for posting this vid FerFal. I think it demonstrates how important situation awareness is. It will literally save your life. I'm going to make it a habit now to always check for at least 2 exits any time I enter a building.

Anonymous said...

To Adam and FerFAL,

You are both correct, in a way. Steam (especially superheated steam) can cause potentially lethal flash burns. What's worse, since superheated steam is invisible (the cloud you often see is actually condensing water vapor), it's possible to walk into it and not know it. That said, even in the hottest fire, I find it difficult to believe that the air temperature will be high enough to cause the water in the cloth to boil. If it is, then you've probably already been cooked to death, in which case suffocation is a moot point.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ferfal, long-time fan...

I'm trained as a wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service. One of the things that we train on is a possible entrapment, which is when we cannot escape the fire and must deploy our fire shelters ("shake & bake bags"). Entrapments generally last from a few minutes to an hour or more, during which time you can be exposed to some serious, nearly lethal heat.

Trainers are emphatic that you not breathe through a wet cloth when exposed to heat. Apparently steam does more damage to your airways than dry air at the same temperature.

Maybe these are extreme and unusual circumstance, but I wouldn't want to chance it myself. Very few people actually burn to death. Most fatalities are from inhaling toxic and/or super-heated gasses.


Anonymous said...

In 1990, Julio González killed 89 people by setting fire to the Happy Land club in New York City.

The evening of the fire, González had argued with his former
girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club,
urging her to quit. She claimed that she had had enough of
him and wanted nothing to do with him anymore. González
tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the
bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the

González was enraged, not just because of losing Lydia, but
also because he had recently lost his job at a lamp factory,
was impoverished, and had virtually no companions.

González returned to the establishment with a plastic
container of gasoline which he found on the ground and had
filled at a gas station. He spread the fuel on the only
staircase into the club. Two matches were then used to
ignite the gasoline.

In "Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage In The Mass Media" (1993), Clayton Cramer noted that this mass murder received less coverage than shootings with far less victims.

The whole thing is worth reading, because Cramer actually quantifies this disparity.

exit said...

Great post. The media is obviously biased but its nice to see some research to back that claim up.