What can we learn from last Friday’s Bucharest nightclub inferno?

Nov 3, 2015 | News

Sleepless nights don’t end when your kids are out of nappies.

How many of you worry when your teenage children head off for a night out? Probably most of you.

You are probably anxious about alcohol, drugs or the frightful eventuality of a car accident on the way home.

But do you ever wonder if they are fire safe?

Probably not.

And the thought probably never passed through the minds of the parents of the victims of the Colectiv nightclub fire last Friday, October 30th. 32 young people died. 180 were injured. Most victims were between the ages of 14 and 16 years old.

A smoky, blazing inferno

This tragedy has once again shown how often basic fire safety measures are recklessly ignored in public gathering places. The club only had one emergency exit and fireworks were used inside a building where the internal ceilings and pillars were clad in combustible foam, used for soundproofing. Once the foam caught fire, the flames spread quickly through the room, filling it with smoke and fumes.

“People were fainting, they were fainting from the smoke. It was total chaos, people were trampling on each other”, a witness told the Romanian Antena 3 TV.

Most of those hospitalised were suffering from smoke inhalation, and had severe burns all over their bodies. “Many sustained burns to their trachea and lungs, aggravated by the kind of noxious gasses you find in foam and furniture which give off toxic substances such as cyanide” said Raed Arafat, an emergency situations official. This unfortunately means the death toll could still rise significantly.

Fire safety regulations to blame?

Following the tragedy, Romania’s fire regulations have been seriously called into question. Was it ok to have exposed combustible foam within the night club and only one exit? Or is it a also a question of lax enforcement of safety rules?

But nightclubs fires are not an issue for Romanian authorities only.

On the 2000-01 New Year’s Eve, fire ripped through a café in the Dutch town of Volendam, killing 14 young people and injuring more than 200.

You may think that fires like these would never happen in your country, and therefore you may be sympathetic to the losses without feeling the urge to take action at home. But what if your child was on holiday in another European country? What if he or she were abroad on an Erasmus exchange? If you were living in Bucharest, would you assume your kid to be safe in Volendam, and viceversa?

Over 500000 European students study abroad annually, 660 million hotel nights are booked in European hotels each year and more than 12 million people work outside their home country. We need a common level of fire safety in buildings to protect us no matter where we are. And we need better regulations and harmonised standards taking the fire safety performance of building materials into account. We also need to be sure that regulations and standards put in place are being enforced. What is being built into buildings is often not what was originally in the design. Substitution of products for cheaper and maybe more unsafe products happens on building sites and often without knowing the consequence for fire safety. The EU needs a fire safety strategy.

This is the lesson to learn from Bucharest’s inferno, and from all the alike tragedies in the EU and worldwide. Because the only way to relegate those tragedies to the past is to make sure we build a fire safe Europe.