In my early days in emergency management I compiled a report about what has come to be known as the “Great White fire”. That was the fire that was started when pyrotechnics were used in a Great White performance in a crowded nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island (February 21, 2003). 99 people lost their lives in that tragedy. I came to know the details of that event well and I still cringe whenever I am in small bars like that with a large group of people (which truthfully is quite rare an occurrence since 2003).
To be fair, I see risk in many places that others don’t even look. In all places and circumstances I try and be aware of my surroundings, potential risks, and ways in which I can protect myself and others. I recognize I am a bit of a geek like that.
But a crowded nightclub and pyrotechnics – is there anyone out there who doesn’t realize the inherent danger in that practice in this day and age? And yet here we are hearing about the largest casualty count in recent history from a nightclub fire out of Brazil - at least 233 dead at last count. It sickens me. When will we learn that this is not a safe practice? When you add other exacerbating factors, like exits that are not clearly marked, an insufficient number of exits, and a building filled beyond capacity – well, we know how that story ends and it is never a happy ending.
When these type of events occur I can only shake my head in disgust. We know better. We cannot eliminate all risk in life, but some risks can be greatly reduced. When folks lose their lives in an incident such as the Great White fire we owe them more than just tears and remembrance – we owe them change. We are behooved to pay their sacrifice forward in stronger protections, smarter practices, and enhanced awareness of risk.
God’s speed to all those who have perished in the Brazil nightclub fire…may you find peace in the changes this horrific event will bring about. God – please allow them that peace and the rest of us an accelerated learning curve. It is time that we finally learn this lesson.
Day one thousand three hundred and one of the new forty- obla di obla da