MANILA, May 15 (Mabuhay) – The warehouse hit by a fire in Valenzuela City may have had insufficient exits to accommodate the number of workers it had, particularly at the second floor, Mayor Rex Gatchalian said Friday.
Gatchalian said the Bureau of Fire Protection is conducting the investigation on the incident, which killed 72 people, and will likely look into occupation requirements, such as the seeming lack of fire exits at the second floor and its uneven ratio to the number of workers there.
“I think ‘yan ‘yung pinupunto ng fire marshals. Depende rin doon sa inaprubahang number ng manggagawa sa loob. It’s a ratio – kung ilan ‘yung nagtatrabaho and the number of staircases and exits. So ang tinutumbok nila ngayon, maaaring doon sa pumasang permit ay para sa bente o ilang tao lamang, pero dinagdagan ‘yung empleyado sa loob without the necessary occupational requirement,” he said.
He added that the question was more about having enough exits more than the structure of the building itself, since it is still standing after the fire.
Gatchalian said: “Visually, if you go there, ‘yung building nakatayo pa rin. The fact na nasunog na siya tapos nakatayo pa rin, what does that say? That means that structurally, the building is sound. Pero kung meron bang sapat na fire exits, doon tayo nagkakatalo. Nakita ko rin personally kahapon, merong mga bintana sa second floor na may nakaharang na fences, which is against the Fire Code. But I will let the Bureau of Fire Protection’s investigation rule that with actuality.”
He said that people on the second floor may not have been able to escape also because of the intensity of the fire and smoke in that area during the incident.
He quoted a fire marshal from the local BFP as saying that an inspection was conducted in the building last year, but results of which couldn’t be released yet because they are still collating the papers.
“He admitted na may inspection. What is inside, he said kino-collate pa nila… [Pero] hindi nila ni-revoke ‘yung compliance certificate, that’s why we had no grounds to revoke the business permit,” he said.
In the same television interview, Gatchalian pointed out the need to “devolve” the BFP to the local government, especially since things like giving building and business permits requires coordination between the two.
“Kasi kahit sa pagpili ng fire marshall, dumarating na lang ‘yan nang walang say ang mayor. How do I know if the fire marshal that you sent me is competent or incompetent?” he said.
BFP regional director Fire Sr. Supt. Sergio Soriano Jr. said the fire officials are recommending that the city fire marshal and fire safety enforcement be relieved for the meantime so they will not be able to influence the investigation.
The Philippine National Police has formed a task force to help BFP and the local goverment in the investigation.
Soriano also said the BFP will look into the consequences of the welding work then ongoing at the structure when the fire happened, as well as at the factory’s “very poor” housekeeping.
“Iyon po ay isa sa mga tinitingnan namin, na very poor ang kanilang housekeeping. Hinihintay pa po ‘yung report ng ating imbestigador. Pero initially, may nakitang negligence dahil nagwe-welding sa tabi ng chemicals at highly flammable materials,” he said.
For his part, BFP Dir. Ariel Barayuga said, “Nagkataon lang po siguro na sobrang bilis, sobrang toxic ng usok na nangyari dahil po sa kemikal na gamit sa paggawa ng tsinelas… kaya po ang ating manggagawa ay nagkaroon ng suffocation.” (MNS)