Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nightclub Fire in Brazil kills 235, injures over 140

The following report is excerpted from an article in by Associated Press writer JULIANA BARBASSA Original content here:  http://news.yahoo.com/no-alarm-only-1-exit-brazil-nightclub-fire-002812171.html 

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — The nightclub Kiss was hot, steamy from the press of beer-fueled bodies dancing close. The Brazilian country band on stage was whipping the young crowd into a frenzy, launching into another fast-paced, accordion-driven tune and lighting flares that spewed silver sparks into the air.

It was another Saturday night in Santa Maria, a university town of about 260,000 on Brazil's southernmost tip.

Then, in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, January 27th, it turned into a scene of indescribable horror as sparks lit a fire in the soundproofing material above the stage, churning out black, toxic smoke as flames raced through the former beer warehouse, killing 233 people.

Picture Tweeted just as the blaze started

"I was right there, so even though I was far from the door, at least I realized something was wrong," said Rodrigo Rizzi, a first-year nursing student who was next to the stage when the fire broke out and watched the tragedy unfold, horror-stricken and helpless.

"Others, who couldn't see the stage, never had a chance. They never saw it coming."

A security guard said afterward that the club was at its estimated maximum capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000 people.

There was no fire alarm, no sprinklers, no fire escape. In violation of state safety codes, fire extinguishers were not spaced every 1,500 square feet, and there was only one exit.

As the city buried its young Monday, questions were raised about whether Brazil is up to the task of ensuring the safety in venues for the World Cup next year, and the Olympics in 2016. Four people were arrested for questioning, including two band members and the nightclub's co-owner.

Rizzi hadn't even planned on going out that night. He was talked into it by friends and knew dozens at the club. He said the first sign of a problem was insulation dripping above the stage.

The flames at that point were barely noticeable, just tiny tongues lapping at the flammable material. The band's singer, Marcelo dos Santos, noticed it and tried to put out the smoldering embers by squirting water from a bottle.

The show kept going. Then, as the ceiling continued to ooze hot molten foam, dos Santos grabbed the drummer's water bottle and aimed it at the fire. That didn't work either, Rizzi said. A security guard handed the band leader a fire extinguisher. He aimed, but nothing came out; the extinguisher didn't work.

At that point, Rizzi said, the singer motioned to the band to get out. Rizzi calmly made his way to the door — the club's only exit — still thinking it was a small fire that would quickly be controlled.

The cavernous building was divided into several sections, including a pub and a VIP lounge — and hundreds of the college students and teenagers crammed in couldn't see the stage. They continued to drink and dance, unaware of the danger spreading above them.

Then, the place became an inferno.

The band members who headed straight for the door lived. One, Danilo Brauner, went back to get his accordion, and never made it out.

The air turned dense and dark with smoke; there was no light, nothing pointing to the single exit. Rizzi found himself clawing through a panicked crowd that surged blindly toward the door.

"I was halfway across the floor, I could see the door, but the air turned black with this thick smoke," he said. "I couldn't breathe. People started to panic and run toward the door. They were falling, screaming, pulling at each other."

The manager, meanwhile, was outside dealing with a drunk and belligerent young man. No one there had any inkling of the desperate scene unfolding just beyond Kiss' black, sound-proof double doors, said taxi driver Edson Schifelbain, who was in his car, waiting for passengers.

A security guard poked his head out and said there was a fight. A fraction of a second later, someone inside yelled "Fire!" The manager opened the doors and it was like opening the gates of hell, Schifelbain said. 

Young men and women, mouths and eyes blackened with soot, clothes tattered, tumbled out screaming and crying. Some ran right over his taxi and two other cabs parked nearby, breaking mirrors, windshields, bashing in the doors. Horrified, he realized his cab was in their way, but couldn't move it because there were bodies hunched over it, collapsed in front of the tires, everywhere.

"The horror I saw in their faces, the terror, I'll never forget," he said. Two girls gasping for air climbed into his car, and as soon as he was able, he sped the six miles (10 kilometers) to the university hospital.

"One of them was crying all the way, screaming, 'My friend is dying,'" he said. "I did what I could. I don't know what happened to those girls." 

Inside the club, metal barriers meant to organize the lines of people entering and leaving became traps, corralling desperate patrons within yards of the exit. Bodies piled up against the grates, smothered and broken by the crushing mob.

Rizzi was stuck, unable to move, taking in gulps of smoke, feeling the gaseous mix burn his lungs.

He was within seconds of passing out, he said, when the whole frenzied mass suddenly lurched forward. The gates gave way, and everyone toppled over. Rizzi was lying on top of two or three people, several more heaped on top of him. He stuck out his hands, smacking them against the sidewalk and door.

Someone pulled him to safety. "To get out, I climbed, I pulled people's hair. I felt other people grabbing me, hitting me in the face," he said. "It's hard to describe the horror. But once I was outside, I recovered, and started pulling out the others."

Soon, he said, the street was a sea of bodies.

This was the scene 24-year-old Gabriel Barcellos Disconzi found when he arrived about 3:30 a.m., an hour after fire broke out. Wakened by a phone call from friends, the club regular immediately started pulling out bodies as smoke spewed so thick that entering the building was unthinkable. 

Using sledgehammers and picks and their bare hands, he and other young men broke down the walls. Born and bred in Santa Maria, the outgoing young lawyer had dozens of friends and acquaintances inside.

"It was all so fast, there was no time for anything, no time for crying over a friend," he said. "It was dead people over here, living over there. Body after body after body."

Both Rizzi and Disconzi were there when they broke into one of the bathrooms and found a tableau of nearly indescribable desperation: It was crammed with bodies, tangled and tossed like dolls, piled as high as Rizzi's chest. In the darkness and confusion, concert-goers had rushed into the bathroom thinking it was an exit. They died, crushed and airless in the dark.

"I'll never forget the wall of people," Rizzi said. Disconzi helped load them into a truck. Just the dead jammed into that bathroom filled an entire truck, he said.

By this time, the city was waking up to the dimension of the tragedy unfolding at its heart. Doctors, nurses and psychologists began arriving, giving immediate assistance — checking eyes and respiratory passages, stabilizing the burned, resuscitating those whose hearts had stopped or lungs had failed because of the smoke. The living they loaded into ambulances. The mounting number of dead went into trucks.

At Charity Hospital, the region's largest, "It was a war scene," said Dr. Ronald Bossemeyer, the technical director. "Trying to give care, comfort the living, and keep family members who started to arrive from overwhelming everything — it was madness," he said, choking back tears. "The wounded, the doctors, people running with saline, with oxygen. We've never seen so many patients." 

As families waited, nurses and technicians ran back and forth, bringing an earring, a shoe, a wallet, anything that could help identify those still living, Bossemeyer said.

As doctors were at work saving those who could be saved, a group of mothers was calling around to check on one another. Elaine Marques Goncalves woke up to that terrible question: Do you know where your child is? 

With a jolt, she realized two of her sons, Gustavo and Deivis, had not come home the night before. "I knew they'd gone to a club, but I didn't know which one," she said. Trying to keep calm, she joined the multitude pressing for news outside the hospital.

Hours later, she got some good news: Gustavo had burns on 20 percent of his body and had suffered two heart attacks as his lungs failed to draw oxygen, but he was alive and being flown to the state capital, Porto Alegre, for treatment. 

"I had time to put my hands on him and say, 'My dear, your mother is here with you,'" she said. "He was sedated, but I know he could hear. Then I had to tear myself away and go find my other son."

Hours passed as the dead piled up in the city gym. It took an entire day of anguish before she learned what she'd dreaded most: Deivis was dead.

As he lay there among basketball hoops and water coolers, one body among so many, she asked the questions on everyone's mind.

"How can a club just burn like that? People have to know what happened here," she said. "It won't bring back my son, but I have to ask. This nightclub was beyond capacity. The whole world has to know. Why couldn't they get out?"

Police were questioning the club's owner and interviewing witnesses as part of an investigation into what caused the blaze, state-run Agencia Brasil reported.

The club's license had expired in August and had not been renewed, local fire official Moises da Silva Fuchs told Globo TV.

In total, at least 235 [as of 1/30/2013] died - almost an even number of men and women - while over 140 people were treated in hospitals, Reuters reported.

Reinaldo Azevedo, writing on the Veja news website, asked why the fire department had previously approved a venue with only one exit. "Our grief must also exercise wrath," he wrote. "This is not a tragedy manufactured by chance. It is the work of a chain of negligence."

Ongoing updates about this event can be found at:

A good commentary and news summary from the Ingorsoll-Rand Door Hardware Company's blog site I Dig Hardware: http://idighardware.com/2013/01/kiss-nightclub-santa-maria-brazil/

1940 - Rhythm Nightclub, Natchez, Mississippi - 209 fatalities.

1942 - Coconut Grove Nightclub - Boston, Massachusetts - 492 deaths.

1977 - Beverly Hills Supper Club - Southgate, Kentucky - 165 dead.

1981 - Stardust Nightclub - Dublin, Ireland - 48 killed.

1996 - Ozone Disco Pub - Quezon City, Phillipines - 162 died.

In 2000, 309 people were killed in a fire at club in Luoyang, China. 

2003 - Epitome Nightclub - Chicago, Illinois - 21 fatalities.

A 2003 nightclub fire killed 100 people in Rhode Island at The Station Nightclub after the rock band Great White illegally used pyrotechnics that ignited combustible foam soundproofing that lined the walls and ceilings of the venue.

Another celebration where fireworks ignited ceiling décor occurred in Buenos Aires, Argentina's República Cromagnon nightclub in 2004; the death toll there was 194.

A 2009 fire at the Lame Horse nightclub in Perm, Russia, was caused by fireworks igniting plastic decorations on the ceiling; 152 died as a result.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shackle Pin Safety

When working at height, even the smallest of dropped objects can become deadly projectiles.  Show riggers working in arenas and stadiums can sometimes be more than 100' above the floor, so even a shackle pin can achieve a terminal velocity that could penetrate a hard-hat.  Ty-Flot, maker of all things to do with securing your tools, has announced the availability of a safety lanyard for shackle screw-pins.  Set-up with a mini-pivoting joint in the cable, it allows the free rotation of the shackle pin for installations all-the-while keeping it safely attached to the shackle bow when disengaged.  The device quickly installs using one field crimp.
 When used in conjunction with a safety lanyard attached to the worker, it can prevent dropped shackles while they are being installed / removed, too - just clip your lanyard onto the shackle lanyard.  Check out their Retractable Wrist Cuff Lanyard:

More information at www.Ty-Flot.com

Monday, January 21, 2013

Have we learned nothing?

The festival season starts early in the south, and Mardi Gras is one of the first events we see set-up for numerous stages and shows.  Outdoor festival stage canopies have proven to present opportunities for accidents because they have large surfaces that can be caught by side winds and uplifting plow winds.  To counter-act the forces developed by gale-force winds, event riggers rely heavily on large ballast weights to tie-off canopy structures in an attempt to anchor the framework to the ground.

These ballast weights work well if they are massive enough for the predicted winds and effective 'sail area' presented by the canopy roof and side walls.  If they are too light, the ballast weights will just be dragged across the ground and bulldoze a path of their own.  Slippery grass, or dirt that turns to mud, just act as a lubricant to free the ballast weights up for sliding in the event of a downpour, so anchoring or pinning the ballast weights to keep them from moving is also part of a good rigging plan.  (The ballast weights shown above were not pinned or anchored to prevent sliding)

Wind is not a steady-state event.  You know that.  It gusts.  It starts and stops.  It changes direction.  It generally whips everything around a bit as it works it mayhem.  For this reason, we need to use secure connections on the guy wires for the ballast weights and stabilizing X's that are used to stiffen the structures against parallelogram movements.  If you don't, a gust of wind can slack the line, unhook the conenction(s), and you loose all anchoring in the blink of an eye.

As you can see above, the anchor ties used in the blocks in the first picture are common ratcheting tie-downs in the trucking industry, and they only have a open hook at the load securing end.  This may be de rigueur for the transport industry, but it's a no-go for event safety.  If the wind gets to blowin' and this bad boy comes loose, it could rip the flesh right off of someone unlucky enough to get in it's flailing path.

So, it was bad enough to see the above tie-down terminations at almost every corner of the stage, but then I looked further up the anchor line and found this:

Each anchor line had two possible points of failure.  Three stages and a major cable bridge over the street, all in close proximity, four to eight anchor blocks secured in this manner for each one, and two possible failure points per securement.  All of this within a city block of a major open waterway (read: obstruction-free wind-path).  Personally, I don't like those odds.

The City is relying on the Event Producers to Employ Staging Subcontractors that will erect facilities that will be safe for the (possibly highly intoxicated) general public to hang-out around and potentially be leaning-on, climbing on, or even messing with.  Plan for the worst, and you may have a chance of having an incident-free event, but if you leave opportunities for failures in the system like are shown above, be ready to pay the piper (or at least the plaintiffs).

Follow-up to commenter:
If you are going to use ratchet-straps to secure anything (subject to load rating), then utilizing products that have a self-closing clip is highly recommended.  Here is a picture of that type of ratchet and clip:

It is also recommended to have a wire rope safety cable that runs in parallel with this, preferably one that is only slightly longer than the final tensioned length of the ratchet strap.  This can prevent a total release of the system should the ratchet strap fail.  Fabric based straps and slings are subject to weakening due to abrasion, minor cuts, and rot.  Straps exposed to sunlight have shortened lifespans due to the exposure to UV light which weakens the fibers.