Russian minister denies patients tied to beds after 38 die in fire
Moscow psychiatric hospital blaze turns spotlight on safety record
A Russian interior ministry officer stands guard near the debris of a psychiatric hospital destroyed by fire in the Novgorod region town of Luka. Photograph: Lyudmila Popova/Reuters
A fire swept through a decrepit psychiatric hospital in a Moscow suburb in the early hours of today, killing 38 people.
The hospital’s windows were fitted with bars and some patients were tied to their beds, according to state-run NTV. Others were reportedly sedated.
Psychiatric Hospital No 14, a one-storey building in the suburb of Ramnesky, dated from the 1950s and was partly made of wood, allowing the flames to spread quickly. The hospital is a “special regime” facility, meaning patients are locked in.
There were only three survivors, a nurse who was able to save herself and one patient, plus one other patient. Two doctors were among the dead.
“The nurse said that when she saw the smoke, she took measures - she began to scream, no one heard her,” said Irina Gumennaya, an official in the Moscow region’s prosecutor’s office. By 2am, the building was engulfed in flames.
Investigators believe the fire was started by a lit cigarette. One survivor told investigators he believed the fire was started by a chain-smoking patient who had been checked in to the hospital the day before. “He was a drug addict, had a [psychiatric] break and therefore smoked constantly, despite the smoking ban,” Ms Gumennaya said, citing the testimony of a survivor. The fire was believed to have started on the sofa in the hospital’s rest area.
Firefighters said the drive from their base 51km away should take 20 minutes, but took an hour because poor roads forced them to take a winding route. By the time they arrived, “there was already no one to save”, one firefighter told NTV.
Twelve patients were found dead in the hospital’s corridors, according to Vadim Belovoshin, the deputy head of the Moscow region’s emergencies ministry. “People went along the corridors, couldn’t find an exit, moved along and died there,” he said.
Russia has a horrific fire safety record, with about 12,000 people dying in fires in Russia last year. Safety codes are not enforced, few buildings boast fire alarms, and ageing electrical infrastructure means fires are common.
Russia’s health minister later denied reports that the patients had been tied to their beds. “After speaking with the main doctor I can say that in general all the patients conducted themselves absolutely normally. There were no measures to tie down these patients, or other measures that would not have allowed them to react quickly,” Veronika Skvortsova said.
State-run television said officials had been ordered to conduct a review of Russia’s fire safety procedures. It also said that relatives had begun arriving at morgues to identify the dead, and would be given 500,000 roubles in compensation.
Ordering reviews and issuing compensation are regular procedures after Russia’s many tragedies, from deadly fires to plane crashes, but few things ever change.
Guardian News & Media