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A deadly fire at a four-story mall in Kemerovo, Russia has not only shaken officials and residents in the Siberian city but has raised the ire of fire and life safety advocates around the globe due to serious lapses in fire safety protocol.

 

The death toll from Sunday’s horrific fire at the Winter Cherry Mall currently stands at 64, with ten victims at the hospital and another ten unaccounted for. An entire class of schoolchildren died as they celebrated the beginning of school break with classmates; making futile calls to loved ones in their final minutes. The incident is the 8th deadliest fire in a retail property since 1970.


Russia's Investigative Committee found “serious violations" at the mall including blocked fire exits and disconnected smoke alarms. Additionally, mall management has been criticized for not providing evacuation support or guidance. Movie-goers reportedly learned about the fire when a man burst into the theater yelling “fire”. Officials have detained employees of the fire alarm company; and are looking to speak with a security guard who turned off the public address system.


Witnesses described a very chaotic scenario with occupants scrambling to escape heavy smoke and flames in dimly lit spaces. According to CNN, the fire began in a movie theater on the shopping center’s top floor. Flammable thermal insulation in the building is believed to have contributed to rapid fire spread and intense heat. Rescue attempts were thwarted when the fourth floor collapsed.


The shopping center opened in 2013 in a former confectionery factory, and is a magnet for families and youths because of its retail stores, theater, bowling alley, skating rink, children's center, and petting zoo. In addition to the dozens of human casualties, an estimated 200 animals perished. More than 800 firefighters fought the blaze for 12 hours.

hurricanes, drones
Over six months after Hurricane Harvey rammed into the Texas coast and dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of Houston, the country's fourth-largest city is still recovering. 
Earlier this month, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston City Council authorized a request to spend $2 million on dozens of new high-water rescue vehicles and boats for the city's fire department. A week later, the newspaper, in collaboration with the Associated Press, ran a two-part investigative feature on the impact of the petrochemical spills that resulted from the storm. Both the need for water-rescue equipment and the issue of petrochemical spills were covered by NFPA Journal in a comprehensive package of hurricane-related stories called "Storm Season" that ran in our November/December 2017 issue. Journal Now
In an interview for a Q&A in the package called "Chief Concerns," Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña stressed the need for more equipment to respond to storms like Harvey. "The biggest gap was the amount of equipment that we were able to muster. We needed boats, high-water vehicles, those types of things," he told Journal Executive Editor Scott Sutherland and Associate Editor Jesse Roman.
In one of the articles I wrote, "In Harm's Way," about the Arkema chemical plant fires and other issues with the petrochemical industry during Harvey, experts called for more information to be incorporated into codes like NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, to address the threat of extreme weather to petrochemical facilities. Many of these facilities dot the Gulf Coast, which is frequently struck by powerful storms. At the time I was working on my article, the Associated Press had identified about two dozen spills. The new Chronicle/AP report, however, found more than 100, many of which were never reported or had been downplayed in their severity. 
Read the first part of the Houston Chronicle/AP investigative feature here, and the second part, which focuses on the Arkema plant, here

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