Brazilian Military Launches Massive Response to Tragic Nightclub Fire
By Dialogo February 01, 2013
Hours after a fire roared through the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil, on Jan. 27, killing 235 people, Brazilian Army and Military Police kicked off a massive humanitarian response to the tragedy.
About 1,400 soldiers have been working in the city to contain fire-related damage and support emergency medical personnel in the wake of Brazil’s deadliest fire in half a century.
The Brazilian Army said 377 military personnel had already been deployed in Santa Maria, which is located in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, about 320 kilometers east of Pôrto Alegre. The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) mobilized another 1,000 soldiers, including 64 physicians and nurses and four psychologists, who offered counseling for the injured as well as victims’ families.
This joint mission is part of a major humanitarian effort being carried out by the Military Brigade (local Military Police), Brazilian Federal Highway Police, State Highway Police and Military Firefighters Corps.
The concentration of local military infrastructure — such as the 3rd Army Division and the Santa Maria Air Base, established in 1970 — has helped mobilize helicopters, aircraft, troops and medical supplies to assist the victims, said the Brazilian Ministry of Defense. The Air Force has been instrumental in transporting victims, physicians and supplies between Santa Maria and Pôrto Alegre, the state capital.
Col. Jeferson Borges, coordinator of aerial operations in Santa Maria, said the Air Force has transformed an aircraft Amazonas C-105 — usually used to transport soldiers — into a high-technology Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“As far as I know, it is the biggest aerial ICU ever assembled in Brazil, with seven beds,” Borges told Agência Força Aérea (AFA), the Air Force news agency. “Each patient is assisted by one physician and two nurses. It means there are seven people being simultaneously assisted by 21 health care professionals.”
Military among the many victims
Just like the eight universities of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Air Base has long been part of daily life in this small city of 261,000 people.
Some of the base’s soldiers were off-duty, inside the Kiss nightclub when the fire began. As a result, of the 235 confirmed fatalities, 13 were military; eight served in the Army and five were in the Air Force, according to Defense Ministry reports.
Borges said the chaos that paralyzed the city also affected the air base.
“Early Monday, while we were transporting seriously ill patients from Santa Maria to Pôrto Alegre, a wake was being held for one of the soldiers who died in the tragedy,” Borges told AFA. “The air base is completely integrated within Santa Maria. Our aircraft, which perform daily flights here, are part of the local culture. So it is impossible to distinguish between the Air Base and society.”
Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim expressed his sorrow in a public statement.
“At this moment of immense commotion and pain, in the face of the tragedy that killed more than 200 people in Santa Maria, I transmit, on behalf of the Ministry of Defense, solidarity with the relatives and friends of the victims, including soldiers of the Brazilian Army and Brazilian Air Force, as well as their dependents,” Amorim said. “On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I express the firm will of the Armed Forces to continue supporting efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of this sad episode, which, I am sure, we all will overcome.”
As of Jan. 29, the Brazilian Air Force was still providing humanitarian assistance to fire victims. In a public statement, it said the Air Force was flying down to Santa Maria a diverse medical team from the Galeão Air Force Hospital in Rio de Janeiro. That team includes a plastic surgeon specializing in the acute care of burn patients, a general surgeon, an intensive-care physician and a group of nurses specializing in burn treatment.
In addition, the Air Force is flying a team from the Aeronautics Hospital in Canoas, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, made up of psychologists, physicians and nurses who will support the forensic team in Santa Maria. It’s also providing fire trucks, ambulances and medical services from the local Air Base Hospital in Santa Maria.
Military aircraft involved in the massive response to the tragedy include C-130 Hercules, C-105 Amazonas and C-97 Brasília transport planes. Smaller aircraft including C-95 Bandeirante and C-98 Caravans, as well as five H-60 Black Hawk helicopters, will be made available to assist medical teams in Santa Maria — both in transporting doctors and other emergency responders, as well as survivors awaiting relocation to other support centers.
Victims are being flown to Pôrto Alegre’s First Aid Hospital by Air Force helicopters, which land in Farroupilha Park, facilitating access to the hospital. In addition, C-99 Embraer 135 and 145 aircraft are used to ferry technicians and experts from the Ministry of National Integration from Brasília to Santa Maria.
Military’s future role in response
Over the next days, Brazilian military response to the tragedy will focus on expanding medical care capacity in Santa Maria and Pôrto Alegre.
Brig. Marcelo Kanitz Damasceno, chief of the Brazilian Air Force’s Center for Social Communication, said a C-130 Hercules left Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão Air Base on Jan. 28, carrying medical supplies for Conceição Hospital in Porto Alegre.
“The aircraft is loaded with 15 vital signs monitors, 10 respirators and two double monitor-breather systems,” Damasceno said. “In the afternoon, the Brazilian Air Force took more 15 patients from Santa Maria to Pôrto Alegre. Since last Sunday, 54 injured embarked aerial ICUs assembled in one C-105 Amazonas, one C-95 Bandeirante, one C-98 Caravan and two Black Hawk helicopters.”
Meanwhile, four people have been arrested in connection with the blaze, which was apparently sparked by the indoor use of cheap fireworks meant for outdoor use only. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff immediately called for stricter safety rules across the country as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“I have the conviction that what happened in Santa Maria will be an example for all local authorities, prompting them to come up with an adequate response,” she said.
A good example, that the other South American nations should follow In Argentina they are still discussing/judging the people responsible for the fire in the club Cromagnon, and under the same characteristics of the club Kiss, in Sta Maria, only that reading your article I realize that 1400 police and military troops were present to help the victims and relatives in that situation.