DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 2 January) – NCCC Mall Davao and its tenant Survey Sampling International (SSI) failed to comply with fire safety requirements, Interagency Anti-Arson Task Force deputy team leader and spokesperson Fire Supt. Jerry Candido said Tuesday.
The task force is investigating the fire in the mall last December 23 that killed 38 workers.
Its finding contradicted the statement of Honey Fritz Alagano, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Davao fire marshal, during the AFP-PNP press conference last December 28 that the mall and SSI passed the annual fire inspection and thus were issued with fire safety inspection certificates last April 2017 and September 2017, respectively.
Candido told reporters in a teleconference on Tuesday that the two establishments did not comply with the fire suppression requirement based on lapses that they found in the setup of the mall’s fire alarm, sprinkler system, and fire exits during their investigation last week.
The fire, which took the firefighters more than a day to put out, was caused by an electrical short circuit at the ceiling on the third mall, he said.
The SSI occupied the entire 4,000-squar meter space on the fourth floor that was also accredited by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.
Candido said the task force found out that the sprinkler systems of the third and fourth floors did not work while the alarm system of the mall was not interconnected with SSI’s, he said.
He said the sprinkler system’s control valve on the third floor had no sprinkler head. The one on the fourth floor was intact but installed outside the facility of SSI when it should have been installed inside.
He said the floor control valve on the third floor was closed due to the ongoing renovation while the one on the fourth floor had been closed for a long time due to the operation of SSI.
He said the sprinklers would not spray water as the floor control valve was closed.
The task force also found out that the NCCC’s alarm system was not automatic, and did not reach the fourth floor when it was sounded by mall personnel, as the SSI’s alarm system was not connected with the mall’s, he said.
“If the fire happens, which already happened to NCCC Mall, the call center agents inside the SSI office would not hear the alarm. Same thing if the fire will start inside the SSI office, those in the third, second, and ground floors, will not know there’s fire.. The alarm system was not interconnected,” he said.
Candido added that the fire exits were not compliant with the Fire Code of the Philippines as these were not heat- and smoke-proof, which explains why workers were trapped on the fourth floor.
He said the trapped workers – 37 call center agents of SSI and a key custodian of NCCC Mall – failed to escape the burning mall via the fire exits as the thick “superheated” gases pushed them back.
He said the sides and “openings” of the doors were not properly sealed to prevent the smoke from coming in.
“The exit from 4th floor going to the ground, leading to the public way was cut off by heat and smoke. Those were the reasons why the fire exits were not used and they were trapped,” he said.
BFP 11 director Senior Supt. Wilberto Rico Neil A. Kwan Tiu said the bodies of the 36 workers were recovered at the lobby of the SSI, just a few steps away from the stairwell, where a group of SSI survivors had earlier come down.
He said the task force has yet to decide on the charges to file against the mall and SSI managements.
The task force is composed of the Department of Interior and Local Government, BFP, National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group 11.
Candido said charges may be filed against five BFP officials who were ordered relieved last Sunday from their posts for issuing the mall and SSI fire safety inspection certifications when the building was not complaint with the Fire Code.
Relieved officials included Alagano Senior Fire Officer 1 Leo Lauzon, the fire safety inspector for SSI Office; Senior Fire Officer 2 Joel Quizmundo, the fire safety inspector for NCCC Mall; Senior Fire Officer 1 Roger Dumag, chief of the Fire Safety Section of Davao City; and, Inspector Renero Jimenez, the station commander of SIR Fire Station.
“Despite the violations, they issued fire safety inspection certificates. Clearly, they violated,” he said.
He said the task force has yet to determine whether they will call for a rechecking on the fire safety measures of all establishments because “we do not want a repeat of the incident.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)