233 – The current number of mostly young lives lost to the Kiss Night Club fire in Santa Maria, Brazil. Nearly a hundred remain under medical treatment. The setting for this disaster was a university party. The evening was marked with music, dancing, and then what proved to be a lethal display of fireworks by one of the live band members. The pyrotechnics sparked a deadly fire. Panic set in and the crowd began surging towards a single exit. With the only opening obstructed by the massive struggle to escape, many victims succumbed to smoke inhalation or were trampled. The scene is shocking, but there is an important fact to consider: this has happened before.
Just last month in Natchez, Mississippi, the community opened a museum commemorating the Rhythm Night Club and the vicious 1940 fire that consumed both property and patrons. 209 people, mostly African-Americans, perished that night, in a way awfully similar to the nightmare in Brazil. Here also a single exit became the avenue of escape for scores of panic-stricken youth. All other exits had been blocked in order to prevent anyone from sneaking in. According to some reports, a single exit was used at Kiss Night Club as well but to prevent sneaking out without paying for drinks.
Minimal research reveals that deadly fires in night clubs are not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, they often give rise to reformations in fire codes. So how could this happen again?
Perhaps it’s time to realize that more individual effort is needed when it comes to ensuring personal safety. How many of us have found ourselves in some hole-in-the-wall club, so packed with bodies that you can barely lift your hand to wipe the sweat from your face? Now, how many of us can say that before entering such a scenario we truly considered our safety?
Natchez Fire Marshal Aaron Wesley urges that people make careful observations when entering such venues. Where are the exits? Is there more than one? Is the venue overcrowded? More often than not, our focus is on enjoying the night, not preparing for some potential disaster. But in doing so, we entrust our safety to the willingness of some businessman to comply with fire codes. And how often has history proven that businessman value profit over human life?