San Diego officials speak on nightclub safety in light of Brazil incident

City says measures in place to avoid accidents

SAN DIEGO - The city of San Diego strictly monitors pyrotechnic displays and occupancy limits in nightclubs and other commercial spaces, preventing -- to date -- disasters such as the mass-fatality fire in a Brazil live-music venue, a fire department spokesman said Monday.

"We've had an excellent, excellent record here," according to Maurice Luque of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. "There's never been a nightclub fire, a disaster with a nightclub here in the city of San Diego, as far as anyone can remember."

The city's annual inspections of businesses and a stringent permitting process for events involving fireworks and similar volatile devices are designed to prevent the kind of accident that killed at least 230 people and injured about 120 others in Santa Maria, Brazil.

Many of those who perished in the blaze -- which began about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, apparently when a band's pyrotechnic show ignited insulation material -- are believed to have died of smoke inhalation, while others were trampled in a rush for the exits, according to news accounts.

San Diego generally does not allow open flame-type devices to be deployed indoors, and the city frequently assigns a deputy fire marshal to oversee pyrotechnic displays, particularly elaborate ones, according to Luque.

For outdoor events, such as the annual KGB Sky Show at Qualcomm Stadium, show promoters often must pay for a fire truck and crew to be posted in the area as a precaution, in case sparks or embers ignite a brush or structure fire, the spokesman noted.

The SDFRD Fire Prevention Bureau, consisting of uniformed firefighters and some civilians, has the authority to approve or deny all applications for use of pyrotechnics in the city.

In terms of occupancy limits, violations often are uncovered by police officers or fire crews visiting nightspots on unrelated calls, such as a disturbance or medical emergency. When a club is clearly overcrowded, personnel "dump" it -- evacuate the entire premises -- and direct the proprietors to let back in the proper number of patrons, Luque said.

Public complaints also occasionally lead to administrative action to dissuade club owners from allowing excessive numbers of customers into their businesses, he added.

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