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23 Jun, 2007 01:43

Safety gear saved lives: Omsk firefighters

A clean-up operation is continuing at an old people's home in Russia's Omsk Region where ten people died in a fire on Wednesday evening. Firefighters say recently installed safety equipment prevented more lives being lost.

More than 30 people were trapped on the top floor of the retirement home in Omsk when a fire broke out in the main hallway. Within minutes it had spread throughout the entire corridor.  

It is the latest in a series of deadly blazes at Russian care facilities in the past few months.

The country has around 18,000 fire-related deaths every year and investigations have shown that human negligence and breaches of safety regulations are often to blame.

December 2006 saw one of Moscow's worst incidents when 45 women were killed in a fire at a drug rehabilitation centre.

The safety conditions were proven to be unsatisfactory and a night watch nurse was said to have alerted the emergency services too late.

Women living at the clinic found the emergency exits locked when they tried to escape the blaze. Most were dead by the time firefighters arrived.

In March, a fire in a home in Krasnodar killed 62 people. It had a huge number of violations including a lack of fire extinguishers and alarms.

It took fire services more than an hour to arrive after a night watchman was said to have ignored two fire alarms.

A national review of all social and care facilities around the country has revealed that over 20% of such homes are lacking proper safety features.

But in Omsk, this isn't the case.  The centre was regarded to be one of the best in the region, and recent inspections had not revealed any problems with safety regulations.

68-year-old survivor Vasily Komnavorov is being treated for smoke inhalation at a near-by hospital.  He thinks it could have been started deliberately.

Authorities aren't ruling anything out.  A criminal investigation has been launched to determine exactly what caused the fire and why some residents were unable to get out in time.

The home's management and Emergency Ministry spokesmen have said that the failure of an on-duty nurse to respond quickly to a fire alarm may have led to the fatalities.

And if that is proved to be the case, it will be another blow to the reputation of a care system which is already under serious pressure.