Feb 2013

Lessons Not Learned

It disheartens us that even after the nightclub fires in Rhode Island, USA in February 2003 and in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December 2004, the lessons of those tragic events appear to have not been learned. In both cases, the entertainment for these venues involved pyrotechnics, and the interior walls and ceilings of the venues used expanded plastic facing. With fireworks as the ignition source, the plastic facings rapidly burned – resulting in 100 deaths in Rhode Island and 194 deaths in Buenos Aires. Contributing factors included insufficient doors, or doors being blocked to prevent from leaving without paying.

Late last month, history repeated itself when it shouldn’t have. A fire at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil left 235 dead at the time of this writing. The cause and contributing factors were again pyrotechnics, exposed expanded plastic construction materials and exiting problems.

Some of the lessons that should have been learned from these events were:

  • Avoid using exposed plastics, even for non-structural purposes. Fire retardants, while slowing the fire growth, do not make the plastics noncombustible. When needed, the plastics should be subject to full-scale, real world testing; we suggest ANSI FM 4880 (colloquially known as the FM Corner Test).
  • Install automatic sprinklers for the resulting occupancy. Where plastics may still be needed perimeter sprinklers are needed along the interior walls in additions to the ceiling sprinklers.
  • Pyrotechnics are an uncontrolled ignition source. They should be treated just like any other hot work condition.

Our hope is that these lessons will be taken to heart.

Risk Logic, Inc. can help identify hot work and construction material risks.