By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Over one year after a fire inside the Kiss nightclub took the lives of 242 people in the city of Santa Maria in Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil faces tough challenges in enforcement of the fire safety regulations already in place across the country. According to a study published by O Globo, only slightly above one percent of Rio de Janeiro state’s high-density residential and commercial buildings were subject to fire code inspections in 2013.
The safety code inspections numbers from the state’s Fire Department show that it only conducted 10,727 preventive inspections in nearly 960,000 residential and commercial buildings. This comes close to 1.11 percent of the buildings that could attract high numbers of people in Rio de Janeiro state. However, the exact number, O Globo explains, is unknown for some buildings were visited more than once.
Experts suggest at least ten percent of all buildings should have their fire safety equipment, such as extinguishers, exit signs and fire alarms, inspected every year for enforcement to be effective. Oversight and inspections, nevertheless, remain a challenge in a state where only 300 firefighters are in charge of the two asks, in addition to approving of prevention projects and enforcing fire code regulations at the popular Carnival and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
In fact, a serious lack of fire safety professionals makes enforcement of fire code regulations across the country a challenge. In 2013, a study from the Ministry of Science and Technology, as well as São Paulo’s Institute of Technological Research (IPT), showed that only fourteen percent of Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities have firefighters. The United Nations recommends at least one firefighter for every one thousand inhabitants, but in Brazil, there are close to 2,757 citizens for every firefighter.
Exacerbating the problem with a lack of trained personnel is the fact that no federal-level fire safety code has been enacted by Brazil’s Congress in the wake of the Santa Maria tragedy.
Considerable differences persist from state to state. While Amazonas has 400 fire safety professionals, the state of Paraná has four thousand. The volunteer fire safety professional model so prevalent in other countries, such as Chile and Spain, only exists in 75 Brazilian cities, according to Ivan Ricardo Fernandes, who has been a firefighter captain for seventeen years.
The Rio de Janeiro state Secretary of Civil Defense and commander of the Fire Department, colonel Sérgio Simões, told O Globo that increasing the number of inspections conducted by firefighters in residential and commercial venues across the state is a priority for him.
“The guidelines were established in March of last year, inspired by the concern to avoid what happened at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria. Each of the 34 barracks should conduct 100 inspections every month, or 34,000 in 2013,” Simões announced last Monday, adding that fire safety professionals may lose their jobs if they fail to survey more buildings.
“We understand that last year was a year of adjustments, but from now on, we will demand this from commanders. In 2014, I will consider achieving at least eighty percent of target (800 inspections a month) per quarter tolerable,” Simões warned.
The 10,727 inspections to which buildings were subjected to in 2013 amount to 31.5 percent of the 34,000 inspection visit target that the Rio state’s Fire Department had set last year. Over 2,000 inspections took place in January of this year alone, which accounts for 64 percent of the Fire Department’s target. In the last month, these visits resulted in the closing of seven childrens’ parties’ venues with poor safety signaling in the city of Rio.