Kemerovo fire: ''Nobody cares whether it burns or not, they care about cost and a paper to cover themselves''

'Sleeping' fire safety systems — the scourge of shopping centres in Russia

The Russian Prosecutor's office has ordered to conduct unscheduled inspections of compliance with fire safety requirements in all shopping centres of the country following the terrible fire in the shopping and entertainment complex Winter Cherry in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. Three years later after the tragedy in Admiral shopping centre in Kazan, about 100 shopping complexes in the city will again be subjected to the same procedures. However, authoritative experts in fire safety share disappointing assessments of feasibility of such inspections in the interview with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya. Automatic fire alarm systems are often turned off like they were in Winter Cherry to save up to 200,000 rubles on their service, — experts are unanimous.

The fire in Kemerovo has caused mass inspections of shopping malls

After the fire in the shopping centre Winter Cherry in the city of Kemerovo, which caused numerous casualties, First Deputy Prosecutor General of Russia Alexander Buksman has instructed the prosecutors of constituent entities of the Russian Federation to carry out ''inspection of compliance with the legislation on fire safety in all shopping malls with entertainment centres''.

Previously, a large-scale inspection of shopping centres in Kazan was carried out after the tragedy in the shopping mall Admiral. At the time, hundreds of objects were inspected, the operation of some of which was suspended through court.

A large-scale inspection of shopping centres in Kazan was carried out after the tragedy in the shopping mall Admiral. Photo: Roman Khasaev

The alarm didn't go off

Until noon on March 26th, rescue teams of the ministry of emergency situations continued inspection of each compartment of the five-storeyed building of the shopping and entertainment centre Winter Cherry with a total area of 1 600 sq.m. The terrible fire was localized 8 hours later: only by 7 p.m., the firemen of the ministry of emergency situations managed to liquidate the main centres of fire. And it is not surprising: firefighters could reach all rooms only 12 hours after the beginning of the fire, and the signal on the panel '01' arrived from eyewitnesses of the incident. In the Russian Union of Rescuers they emphasize that the alarm system, with which each shopping centre must be equipped, didn't go off. ''It is known that the alarm system did not go off in a timely manner. Many visitors of the mall found themselves blocked indoors,'' said in a statement of the union. From video footage it is evident that the emergency exits were closed, and no fire extinguisher with water, foam or gas worked out.

The fire trap killed 64 people, including at least 9 children. Most of the victims were found in a cinema theatre, which turned out to be locked. Sixteen people are reported missing. These are the official data of EMERCOM of Russia on March 26th, 12.00 PM Moscow time.

Winter Cherry was disconnected from the console 01?

The statistics show that in almost every case of fire in large shopping centres automatic fire alarm systems were dysfunctional, noted head of the company Brandmaster Nikolay Ostanin. According to the legislation, facilities with mass visits of people must be equipped with five mandatory safety systems: alarm, monitoring of warning protection system (signal output to the console '01'), notification and evacuation of people and fire extinguishing, as well as internal water supply systems. ''My idea is very simple: they probably did not even have a monitoring system. This system, without human intervention, notify and transmit the signal to the fire station on the console 01. Even this they didn't have,'' he notes. ''If it was working, it would have worked instantly, and people would immediately understand what had happened.''

Another version is that they had a monitoring system, but it was re-programmed. ''Maybe it was like this: they did the system and commissioned the facility to the state Inspectorate. But they decided not to sign a contract for service after the commissioning of the building, and the system failed. It was re-programmed. Well, we have what we have now,'' says Nikolay Ostanin.

''I have bad memories after the Admiral incident,'' he said. ''When they asked to develop a fire safety project, we suggested them to develop a normal fire extinguishing system. But they said ''no'', ''we'll do without it''. They knowingly went for violations, although our project cost tens times cheaper than the damage that brought them the fire,'' regrets Ostanin. ''Now everywhere there will be inspections as a lot of people do work carelessly. Although modern equipment allows to save people's lives in fires.''

The statistics show that in almost every case of fire in large shopping centres automatic fire alarm systems were dysfunctional. Photo: fortex-kazan.ru

Malfunction of automatic safety is the most common violation

'Sleeping' fire safety systems — the scourge of shopping centres, but they are impossible to reveal during unscheduled inspections. This is the responsibility of the management company of the shopping centre. Three years ago this problem was raised by the chief state inspector of Tatarstan on fire supervision Sergey Sergeyev. ''Malfunction of automatic fire safety systems is the most common violation,'' he told the reporters.

After the equally tragic fire in Admiral shopping centre in Kazan, the agency checked 680 objects with mass visits of people, mainly commercial. ''497 wholesale and retail trade facilities were operated with fire safety violations. The total number of violations reached 5,100. 15 citizens, 15 legal entities and 354 officials were brought to administrative responsibility. The total amount of penalties was about 6,2 million rubles,'' reported Sergeyev at the time. But then he made a reservation that it was easier to pay a fine than to bear the cost of bringing the object in the fire-safe state for the head of the trade organization.

The head of the company Safety Satellite, serving fire safety systems of social institutions in Kazan, suggested that the systems are often turned off because of false calls, but then they 'forget' to turn them on again. ''A lot depends on a operating organization. It is one thing to mount the system, but then they leave the facility and there is no one to carry out routine work,'' he says, relying on his own practice. According to his estimates, it is necessary to lay 200,000 rubles a month for maintenance of fire safety systems, and 200 million rubles to equip a building like Winter Cherry.

''Malfunction of automatic fire safety systems is the most common violation,'' said chief state inspector of Tatarstan on fire supervision Sergey Sergeyev already three years ago. Photo: 16.mchs.gov.ru

Covering yourself with fig leaf

Aleksander Kuchev, a partner of the Finnish company Keraplast (the manufacturer of smoke removal systems) sees the problem in that the buildings are built from combustible materials, which deprives citizens of a chance of salvation even in the presence of automatic alarm systems.

''In Russia, the trend is that combustible materials, which do not meet the stated requirements, are used for contruction in most cases. We have every second or third case when manufacturing companies simply purchase a certificate of high quality material safety, but it is not necessarily that it is true. Unfortunately, the certification system is built in such a way that you can drag in by the head and shoulders any product. If you have a G3 combustibility material (the third class of combustibility), and you need to get into the project, then they go to an intermediary certification body. It will give a paper without tests, on the basis of specifications. Eventually, you will receive a certificate for G1 (weakly combustible material by flammability class). The conclusion is the following: no matter how good a smoke exhaust system is, there's nothing to save. No one cares whether it burns or not, everyone cares about how much it costs and whether there is a paper to cover yourself,'' he concluded.

By Luiza Ignatyeva

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