Negligence Suspected as Cause of Death of Two Fire Victims
The fire that claimed two lives in a clothing manufacturing workshop in central Tehran last week has created much controversy over Tehran’s Fire Department’s handling of the incident, with many, including President Hassan Rouhani, calling for an investigation. The fire has put the spotlight on government accountability for what some believe has been gross negligence, which claimed the lives of Nasrin Foroutani, 44, and Azar Haghnazari, 60.
Expressing utmost regret about the lost lives of the fire victims, in a letter addressed to Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani asked him on January 21 to immediately investigate the incident and to provide him with a report.
At least one member of the Tehran City Council, Mohsen Sarkhou, has demanded the resignation of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. According to family members of the victims who spoke to Sharq Newspaper, none of the city or government officials have contacted the families to express sympathy for the deaths. Mojtaba Abdollahi, Deputy Mayor for Tehran City Services, told reporters, “It was God’s will and determination for these two women to lose their lives.” After media coverage and widespread reactions to the scenes of the fall shared on social media, however, Tehran Mayor, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf broke his three-day silence and said today that he has appointed a group to investigate the incident and to report back to the public within 15 days.
Jalal Maleki, the Fire Department’s spokesperson, described the incident to ISNA: “At 11:30 on Sunday, January 19, the Tehran Fire Department received a call about a fire in a five-story building that housed a clothing manufacturing shop. Inspections by the firefighters on the scene showed that there was a fire on the fifth floor of the building, where a clothing manufacturing shop was housed.” He claimed that the victims “unfortunately did not heed the warnings and requests of the firefighters, and jumped down” to their deaths.
Iran, the state newspaper, quoted Maleki saying, “Several firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the incident location. Twenty-five individuals were trapped in flames in different parts of the building. As a result of the fire, two of the women who worked in this shop were hanging from the windows of the fifth floor, and because they were unable to maintain a solid grip, they fell down and lost their lives. The firefighting ladders were immediately set up in proper spots and another eight people who were about to fall were saved. Another 15 individuals who were trapped in the building stairways were saved by the firefighters. Three firefighters were hurt and were transferred to medical centers.”
Eyewitnesses, however, tell a different story. In a news clip published by Jam-e-Jam Online, however, an unidentified Fire Department representative stated that he was “embarrassed to say that, despite daily checkups, the ladder in the first fire truck dispatched to the scene did not open…possibly due to the truck’s sudden shakes and the stress and the speed of getting itself to the scene.” The official states that it took two minutes for a second truck to arrive and this time the ladder did open, but the two women fell to their deaths before the second ladder could reach them. The witnesses in the Jam-e-Jam video tell the reporter that if the first ladder had worked, the firefighters could have saved the two fall victims.
Mohsen Akbarzadeh, the son of one of the victims, Azar Haghnazari, told Sharq Newspaper that he received a call from his mother from inside the building, asking him to come to her help. “I got myself there quickly. I saw that black smoke and huge flames were coming out of the building’s windows. Some were looking down from the windows and were asking for help. Two women had climbed out of the windows. People had gathered below and the fire trucks were getting ready on the street. I heard from the crowd that the first fire truck had been unable to open its ladder. A little later I realized that one of the women who had climbed out of the windows was my mother. I kept crying and yelling, asking them to help her, but no one could hear me. After some time, Ms. Foroutani fell, but my mother held on for more than five minutes, hanging on. But during this time one of the firefighters started throwing water. Instead of pointing the hose at the fire flames, he was pointing it at my mother, soaking her. But the fire was on the other side of the building. Ultimately, my mother wasn’t able to hold on any longer and she fell, too,” he told Sharq. Haghnazari no longer worked at the clothing workshop, but had returned the day of the fire to collect her backpay. Neither victim was insured at the time of death.
“How much strength did my old mother have to keep herself at that height? Instead of helping her, the firefighters were pumping water at her. Though I was a witness to this myself, I’m not the only one saying this. It is quite clear in the films recorded on the day of the incident. The fire trucks were full of foam and they made everywhere slippery. Without a doubt where my mother had secured a grip also became slippery, and this played the main role in her fall. Additionally, they must be asked why they didn’t have a functioning ladder or a fireman’s net, and why they didn’t know how to pump water properly during a sensitive incident such as this one,” said Akbarzadeh.