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A nightclub disaster could easily happen in NZ

A nightclub disaster could easily happen in New Zealand, warns a fire safety expert.

Overcrowding, locked escape doors and escape routes used for storage are all common problems in nightclubs here, says Auckland chief fire safety officer Gary Talbot.

His warning follows the deaths of 21 people killed in a Chicago nightclub crush.

“In the last month in Auckland fire safety officers have focused on nightclubs. One nightclub was inspected twice within a week. Exits were blocked and one had a screen placed in front of it. The owner cleared the exits at the instructions of fire safety officers, but when they returned seven days later the exits were blocked again.”

“Overcrowding is another problem. One nightclub licensed for 150 people had about 400 packed in there one night.”

“This is a big problem. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Nightclub disasters have claimed hundreds of lives over the years, from 602 at a theatre in the USA in 1903 to 63 on Gothenburg in October last year. Gary says it’s pure luck New Zealand has not added to the death toll.

He says part of the problem is that the law generally does not allow instant redress if a nightclub owner is found to be violating building codes. In extreme cases, if a building is deemed to be particularly dangerous, action can be taken to close it down immediately. But, just as in the Chicago case, that won’t necessarily stop people using it.

“We’d prefer owners to take responsibility for public safety.”

He urges nightclub owners to be responsible, keep all emergency exits clear and put on extra security if they are worried about people sneaking into the club through these exits.

“All staff should be trained in evacuation and firefighting, and keep to the number of patrons you are licensed for.”

Nightclub patrons should make themselves aware of the escape routes.

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