Amid Calls for Tehran Mayor’s Resignation for Negligence, Two Firefighters Arrested Instead
Iranian citizens and politicians are calling for the Tehran mayor’s resignation in relation to the thwarted rescue efforts in the January 19 Tehran fire that left two women dead after firefighting equipment failed. This week two firefighters who had attempted to rescue the women were taken into custody, though the judicial basis for their arrest is unclear.
The two women died when they fell from the side of the five-story building after hanging from a window to escape the flames; firefighters were unable to rescue them after an automatic ladder failed to open in time. According to Iranian authorities investigations are underway, and some in Iran are speculating that the arrests were an attempt to calm the public outrage over the way the incident was handled by the Tehran Fire Department, an organization under the supervision of Tehran Municipality.
High-ranking officials from Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, who visited the fire site and said an investigation was in progress, to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who ordered his Interior Minister to review the incident and to report his findings, are publicly seeking answers to what caused the fire and how the emergency crew handled the situation, but no city officials have publicly taken responsibility for the way the situation was handled.
Many Iranians have been calling for the resignation of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, saying that as the official ultimately responsible for the operation of the Tehran Fire Department, he should take responsibility for the department’s lack of preparedness, long response time, and possible negligence contributing to the deaths. Even some Tehran City Council Members asked him to resign last week. Iranian media also chastised Qalibaf for his days-long silence immediately following the fire.
Qalibaf spoke publicly about the fire for the first time at a conference on city development on January 22. “This was a very tragic accident and from the very first moments I was informed about it, it was very bitter and sad for me like everyone else. Therefore I would like to extend my condolences to the families of the victims,” he said. He also promised “a careful review” of the incident and announcement of the facts over the next 15 days. Qalibaf said that the review he is promising would be comprehensive and careful, adding that if the investigation results indicate that “a violation or negligence has occurred, we will definitely introduce the culprit, take action against him, and he will be referred to authorities.”
Qalibaf’s statements, however, were challenged by prominent Iranian lawyer Nemat Ahmadi, who told ISNA, “On what authority does Mr. Mayor say on television that he has ordered the culprit to be identified within 15 days? This is the job of the Judiciary. The Municipality itself is a suspect in this case, but the suspect is saying that he wants to determine who was at fault. This is not within his authority at all, and this issue itself shows that this is politics at work.”
The city of Tehran hosts a population exceeding 14 million, and this fire has called into question whether its emergency services are truly capable of emergency and rescue for this population. The January 19 fire occurred on a national holiday when there was minimal traffic on Tehran streets, and the building on fire was located on a main road access. Many Iranians are concerned that the city officials’ lack of accountability in this incident will delay necessary changes that could protect the lives of citizens of Tehran in a disaster.
On January 25, Payam-e-No website published statements and evidence from the Tehran representative of Iveco Magirus Company, a German company specializing in “firefighting, rescue, and special vehicles and equipment,” indicating that over the past 13 months the supplier for the automatic ladders had cautioned the Tehran Municipality for failing to fulfill its obligations for a service contract on the equipment. The company representative told Payam-e-No that Tehran Municipality has never responded to their many communications about the need for after-sale repairs and services for their vehicles and equipment per their contract, and that they had attempted to repair the equipment themselves, in violation of their contracts with the company.
Describing the circumstances surrounding the fall of the two female victims from the side of the five-story building, Seyed Reza Khoshzad, Managing Director of Tehran Fire Department, said that if one of the victims “could have resisted 15 seconds longer, the second ladder would have become operational and she could have been saved.” The statement has been widely criticized for its lack of sensitivity.