On January 27, 2013Kiss Nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil caught fire, killing more than 230 people. The band that was performing set off a pyrotechnic display that was not intended for indoor use. As a result of the pyrotechnics, flammable sound insulation caught fire and released toxic smoke into the club. Without proper exit signs, dozens found their way to the bathrooms where they died.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Every few years, a large venue catches fire, killing those who were unable to escape. When investigating the causes of these fires, several similarities can be identified. Many of the venues were over capacity, emergency exits were blocked, and fire safety equipment was inadequate or nonexistent. Like Kiss Nightclub, some of the most deadly club fires were started by flares or fireworks catching flammable sound insulation ablaze.
Engineers have a duty to protect public safety and need to learn from these incidents to prevent them from reoccurring. Flammable sound insulation should be banned from use in public venues. When fire alarms are activated, ventilation systems should automatically draw toxic smoke out of the building, while providing clean air at floor level. Fluorescent flooring and baseboards as well as audible exit alarms should be present to guide building occupants to the exit. Establishing and utilizing building codes that meet these requirements will allow engineers to prevent similar tragedies and protect human life.