Tarvia Henry

Death traps - Most nightclubs, bars ignore fire safety regulations

Security measures create fire traps in some clubs

BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor — Sunday This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

PATRONS at some of the Corporate Area's most popular exotic clubs and bars could be sipping their drinks and enjoying the "sights" oblivious to the fact that they are sitting in fire traps.

The Jamaica Fire Brigade says overcrowded dance floors and padlocked exits at clubs and bars are increasingly becoming cause for alarm.




The fire experts feel carelessness and plain old greed could one day spark a massive club fire and cause tragic loss of life similar to the 2009 Russian nightclub tragedy in which 109 patrons died.

In that case, fireworks launched inside the building hit the plastic ceiling, setting everything ablaze. The victims died from burns, smoke inhalation and being crushed in the ensuing stampede.

According to local fire experts, the same could happen here in Jamaica.

The Fire Brigade's mandate is to ensure that all public buildings, including hotels, bars and nightclubs are compliant with fire safety regulations. However, Fire Chief Laurie Williams, pointing to data from the brigade's latest survey of adherence to safety standards in public buildings, said compliance among nightclubs and places of entertainment is far too low.

"Looking at 2010, we are way below what we would term optimum compliance in terms of fire prevention, in terms of recommendation for bars, clubs, mainly nightclubs, etc," he said. "We find we have a compliance rate of just about 26 per cent. Last year we did 602 inspections, of that we were only able to certify 156 of the premises.

"This year seems to have not brought much improvement on these rates. So far we have inspected 118 of that type of facility and we have only certified 26, or about 31 per cent of what we have looked at so far between January and February."

Williams blamed a multiplicity of factors for proprietors slacking off.

"What we find is that they (the clubs) would have been certified for a particular year and when we go back the following year to re-certify, because of complacency or lack of adherence to the recommendations, we find that exits that were originally there have now become blocked, because persons are trying to store more than the place can accommodate," said the fire chief.

"There are some very big establishments where, for security reasons, they are padlocking some of the doors and their panic bars (emergency locks on doors) don't work," he noted.

"We find that (exit) signs that originally were working are no longer working; we find that the alarms at the exits have not been serviced, so we don't know if they would work in an emergency, and when we check sometimes we have a difficulty getting them to work," Williams explained.

However, by far the most commonplace infraction occurs at nights which is when the fire brigade's inspectors prefer to do their spot checks, Williams said.

"Most of the places (of amusement) have a (certain) square footage which should only handle a certain number of patrons (but) are overcrowded, way, way overcrowded in terms of the number of persons who should be in that particular space," said the fire chief.

The potential for a stampede in the event a fire breaks out is high when the twin hazards of limited exits and overcrowding are combined.

Commissioner Williams declined the Sunday Observer's entreaties for him to name those clubs found in breach. However, he said the infractions were not limited to the Corporate Area and included some clubs in the popular resort areas as well.

He added that the dangers of overcrowding and inadequate or blocked exits in some clubs and bars are compounded by the fact that employees at these establishments are usually untrained in assisting in the evacuation of patrons if there is a fire.

Under the Fire Brigade Act (1988) the owners and operators of the establishments must have fire certificates in order to get a licence to operate.

The fire brigade personnel conduct regular inspections to keep club operators in train and to ensure these buildings are up to par. Those that aren't could have their certification revoked and face fines.

At the end of inspections, weaknesses with respect to fire safety are pointed out to the proprietor and they are given a specified period of time to become compliant, after which they are re-inspected. If they are found compliant, on payment of upkeep — which the fire brigade says is needed to take care of consumables or administrative costs — they will be issued with a one-year certificate of compliance.

Williams feels that operators of nightclubs, bars and other places of amusement tend to ensure that they renew their liquor licence annually, because they need that to operate. In contrast, they don't go for their fire certification annually unless forced by the brigade's inspectors, or unless there is a public incident that pushes everybody towards compliance.

"You see, what happens is that they are compliant initially to get a licence — and I don't have any empirical evidence to prove it — but you find that it's usually when the parish council or some other entity makes a particular move, before persons try to re-certify," he said.

However, the legislation has failed to keep up with the times since those found in breach of the fire safety regulations and who fail to rectify their situation within the grace period specified by the fire brigade face having to pay a paltry $5,000 fine, or spend up to six months in prison.

According to Williams, when faced with the possibility of appearing before a magistrate, the errant proprietors can easily pay the fine and move towards conforming to the regulations.

But tight pockets and fewer patrons have made some club operators willing to risk not only their personal freedom, but their patrons' lives.

"When we compare fire safety and security, fire safety loses out," he said.

"I mentioned panic bars; what the panic bar is supposed to do is that when you lean against it, such as when there is a rush of people as happens in an emergency, the lever is supposed to drop, allowing people to exit the building quickly. But club owners have found people who don't pay slipping into the establishment this way... you have some management that tend to padlock that," said Williams.

"What we have advocated is for them to connect the panic bar to an auto-alarm so that if someone opens the door, it would trigger an alarm."

However, in noting that there has been no major nightclub fire tragedy during his tenure with the fire brigade, Commissioner Williams said there are a few signs that, on the recommendation of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, proprietors of more exclusive clubs are moving toward using construction materials and decor that are resistant to fire.

"Our experience has been that most of the premises, except for those that are on upper floors and (those that) tend to have easy egress from the premises in case of fire, tend to adhere to our recommendations of not using flammable materials in the decor," said the fire chief.

He was also pleased to report that smoking has been banned in some enclosed places of entertainment, which also helps reduce risk.

"More and more, we find more proprietors moving toward a 'No-Smoking' policy because of the air-conditioning. So you find that there is less of a risk for fire caused by smoking, but there is still the risk of electrical fires from equipment that is being used on the premises," said Williams.

He made the comparison between Jamaican clubs and those in other countries where special effects such as sparklers and indoor flames, as well as multi-media effects can spark fires.

However, Williams readily admitted that the fire brigade's public education campaign needs to be beefed up.

"We need to be more aggressive in terms of the public education of these individuals," he conceded.

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Death-traps_8505552#ixzz1Hqrbi8gN
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‘Soca returns to calypso format’

Published: Sun, 2011-03-20 20:31
Morel “Luta” Peters

Wine! Wine! Wine! Shake Up Your Waistline! Such commands dominated the soca scene for more than a decade. But, for some, Carnival 2011 signalled a “renaissance in soca.” Gems like Benjai’s Trini, Kees Dieffenthaller’s Wotless and Blaxx Tanti Woi worked partygoers into a frenzy.  A case study for the tremendous response to the panoply of sweet soca might have been the finals of the bmobile International and Groovy Soca Monarch competitions at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, on March 4. Guardian Media Ltd was the official media sponsor. Soca superstar Machel Montano emerged victorious in the power category and went on to cop the Road March title with Advantage. Accompanied by veteran Lord Nelson, Kees Dieffenthaller proved he was Wotless to a fault in the groovy category. Among those who noticed the “renaissance in soca” was former two-time calypso monarch, veteran calypsonian Morel Peters, fondly known as Luta.

He excelled at the Dimanche Gras competition in 1994 with Kaiso Kaiso and Check The Foundation. He repeated the feat in 2006 with Good Drivin and Licensced Firearm. Peters wasted no time singing praises to soca insisting the soca bards had been returning to the calypso format for their presentations. He said: “We definitely had a good crop of soca this year. The reason is they are returning to the calypso format. The songs had a basic story. They were not too much focussed on wave and jump and wine. The focus was on a story. It’s a great plus for the music.” 

No division between calypso, soca 

At workshops such as Nalis Library, Port-of-Spain, Peters had never stressed any dichotomy between calypso and soca. He had always viewed soca as “a different style of calypso but calypso anyway.”  Peters noted due to the general acceptance of soca, the idea that there was a sharp division between soca and calypso had been put to rest. “I hope more people would be going that way and keeping the calypso element that soared. That’s why I love this year so much. I am happy to see a year when the music on the road and the Soca Monarch did not have to do with jump and wave.” 

Borrowing a line from playwright William Shakespeare, Peters said: “Much ado was made about nothing. I don’t know what they were fighting about. They were trying to get on as though all the music is calypso music.” From New York, composer Alvin Daniell also shared the view “if the music continued in that note, it was poised to go international.” Like Peters, Daniell, too, raised a paean to the “renaissance in soca.” He said: “I really thought it was a lot better in years gone by. There was more emphasis on melody and meaningful lyrics. I think the production too was better...If we continue on that path then we are well on our way to getting the music accepted internationally.”

Consider pan music soca music 

Daniell, who is also a steelpan afficionado, delved into the pan compositions. “The songs that were composed for the pan were of a higher variety. It’s time to stop accepting it as just soca music and stop calling it pan songs. It is really good pan music. We saw more traditional music being classified as pan which means people are looking for good melodies and structure. It means pan music should be given the same respect and airing. A lot of the songs need more exposure,” he said. 


Sprangalang: Groovy soca ruled

Although he was the facilitator at the Kalypso Revue cast, headed by Michael Osuna, at Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, comedian Dennis Hall (Sprangalang) was wooed by the C2k11 crop of soca music.  Without mincing words, Hall said: “I think the groovy soca was the Carnival music and one of the best groovy soca songs was Benjai’s I’m A Trini. “It was the defining music of the Carnival. I heard children singing the song in San Fernando. I never heard Machel’s song. But the groovy soca was the music of the Carnival. “It means we have to get back to a sense of melodies and rhythm. The groovy soca music propped up the road music. Power soca is going to kill all of us.” But he wasn’t so confident about the direction of the power and traditional calypsoes. 


Support young bards 

Hall said: “I think we have to jump out and protect the young fellas like Kurt Allen and Benjai.  All of a sudden they bringing out rule book and saying calypso has to have three verses.” Harking back to the days when Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) made an impact he said: “People did not say let us leave out Spoiler. Leh we support young boy Sparrow. The people supported whom they liked.”  He said there was the need to support the younger Turks like Benjai. “We need to understand every era has change. Machel has his fans. The young fellas have their own fans. We have a duty to support the youngsters that are coming out,” Hall said. 

He paid kudos to Chairman of Caribbean Prestige Foundation William Munro insisting the man who “sanctioned groovy soca is going to use the music that would tote the road.”  “I did not hear power soca songs on the road.” Hall predicted if there was support for the groovy soca for the next three years then it would mean they were on  the right track. “You heard what they were  saying; you  understood what they were saying and you could have danced to what they  were saying. They kept us happy,” Hall said. 


Benjai interfered with status quo

While he enjoyed phenomenal support and even made it to the finals of the Dimanche Gras competition, Benjai placed last. “I feel is the same judges and them who used to judge soca and put men like Tambu and Crazy last judge Benjai and he came out last. I think is a kind of arrogance because Benjai interfered with the status quo of calypso. They did what they had about their opinion of soca and put him last,” Hall said. Regrettably, he felt they had not they had ignored the salient fact that not “since the days of Naya the young people had not given us a patriotic song.”

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Buju's sentencing pushed back


Friday, March 18, 2011


TAMPA, USA (CMC) — A United States federal judge in Tampa, Florida has pushed back the sentencing date for Jamaican Grammy Award-winning reggae star Buju Banton to June 23.

Banton was originally scheduled to be sentenced on June 16, but federal district Judge James S Moody Jr said, without any explanation, that the reggae artiste will now be sentenced on the new date.


BANTON… now to be sentenced June 23


Banton, 37, whose real name is Mark Myrie, faces up to life in prison.

Last month, a 12-member federal jury found him guilty of three cocaine-related charges. The jury found him guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilogrammes or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine.

They also found him guilty of attempting to possess five kilogrammes or more of cocaine, and for "aiding and abetting others in using a communication facility in the commission of a felony".

The jury, however, did not find him guilty of "knowingly and intentionally possessing a firearm in furtherance of and during the course of a drug-trafficking crime".

The deejay has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, the second as a jury reached a deadlock late last year at the first trial.

Banton's attorney, David Markus, argued that the artiste never became a willing participant of the cocaine conspiracy charged in the superseding indictment.

He said tasting the cocaine, talking about cocaine and simply being present at the warehouse is not sufficient to find Banton guilty of the crimes.

Banton was arrested on December 10, 2009 in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation.

Banton's long-time friend, Ian Thomas, and a James Mack were arrested the same day when they attempted to buy cocaine from undercover detectives in a Florida warehouse. Thomas and Mack pleaded guilty, but Buju denied the charges.

Banton, who is in detention awaiting sentencing, thanked his fans for their support, stating: "Our life and our destiny are sometimes pre-destined; and, no matter where this journey takes me, remember I fought the good fight. It was a great man that said my head is bloody but still unbowed I love you all thank you for your support," he said.

Banton reached the zenith of his career on February 13 when his album Before the Dawn as awarded the Grammy for best reggae album.

Prosecutors charged Banton was the middleman in a cocaine transaction between Tampa dope dealers and a confidential informant working with the DEA.

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Buju-s-sentencing-pushed-back_8539678#ixzz1HCErr6wb
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