By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – On January 27, 2013, 242 young men and women in the student town of Santa Maria in Rio de Grande do Sul state lost their lives when a fire broke out inside the windowless Kiss nightclub during a concert. One year after the second-worst fire in Brazilian history, questions remain over whether the tragedy resulted in tangible action to prevent a similar incident from taking place again.
One year after President Dilma Rousseff and several lawmakers made promises to enact legislation that would enforce stricter fire safety regulations in closed venues, no safety laws have been strengthened or implemented on a national level. A total of twenty-five bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Brazilian Congress, but none have been approved.
Exacerbating the problem is a serious lack of trained personnel to enforce the safety codes that are already in place across the country, as well as systematic corruption that ensures bribes to underpaid regulators can result in a free pass on fire safety for club owners.
In Santa Maria, no drastic measures have been taken to ensure another tragedy of the kind happens again, except for one municipal bill enacted by mayor Cézar Schirmer that requires nightclubs and bars to use electronic equipment to count the number of people entering a venue. The state assembly of Rio Grande do Sul approved a bill that promises stricter rules and punishment for fire code violations at the end of 2013, but the law will only go into effect in 2015.
The soundproofing foam on the ceiling of the nightclub, which caught fire after the lead singer of a country band lit a flare inside Kiss, igniting the blaze, is still legal. The toxic fumes generated by the burnt foam, including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, were responsible for most of the deaths that occurred when close to a thousand panicked youth stampeded towards the club’s only four-door exit on January 27, 2013.
“What killed those kids at that nightclub was our culture, a culture of not liking to obey laws,” Luciano Favero, a fire prevention specialist, told the Associated Press. “Brazil is a country that reacts; it does not prevent.”
Additionally, the families of victims have also yet to see a final verdict on who is to blame for the fire. The owners of the Kiss nigthclub, Elissandro Calegaro and Mauro Londero, as well as the musicians from the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, Marcelo de Jesus dos Santos and Luciano Augusto Bonilha Leão were charged with murder, but they remain free while they await the trial.
The one-year anniversary of the fire was marked by both emotion and protests in Santa Maria. In the early hours of Monday, family members of those who lost their lives in the fire drew 242 bodies on the sidewalks of Santa Maria to represent each person who died in the fire. At 3AM, the time when the fire is thought to have started, family members and supporters held a protest outside the Kiss nightclub.
Declared a day of grievance in Santa Maria by mayor Schirmer, the city’s population gathered at a central square to pay homage to the victims of the tragedy during the day.
“It was a silence like I have never seen. People did not go out anymore, they were scared, they did not smile like they did before,” Guilherme Moura, a law student who lost three friends in the fire, told a Rio Grande do Sul state newspaper.
“We live with this feeling of grief, which no one likes to talk about, but that everyone feels,” Moura affirmed.