36 patients, 1 orderly dead Friday in fire at psychiatric hospital
The pre-dawn fire destroyed a single-story, wood & brick ward with barred windows, for severely mentally ill male patients in the village of Luka, which is in Novgorod province between Moscow and St Petersburg. Volunteer firefighters began battling the blaze minutes after it started at approximately 3:00 am, but the nearest fire station is 45 km away and it took a crew 45 minutes to arrive on fog-shrouded roads, Interfax cited a top regional emergency official as saying.
By the time they arrived, the building was fully involved. The announced death toll is 37, which, according to Reuters, includes a female orderly who went back in to try to save patients in the ward. Other sources are saying two doctors died, while a nurse escaped with a patient. 29 bodies have been recovered, and while there is some hope that a handful of patients may have escaped on their own, none have been found. No one is sure how many of the patients in the ward had been sedated for the night, as their charts with that prescription information also went up in smoke.
There is speculation that the fire was either deliberately or accidentally started by a resident on the ward. Critics of the government say state authorities frequently blame the victims of fires in order to avoid culpability.
According to Reuters:
Emergency officials and prosecutors had sought to have the building condemned as unsafe, but a court instead ordered management to correct unspecified flaws by August 2014, the head of safety oversight for the Emergencies Ministry said.
“The building that burned was unfit for use,” the official, Yuri Deshevykh, told state-run Itar-Tass news agency. Federal investigators began a criminal inquiry into suspected lethal negligence.
State television showed firefighters spraying water on the smoking, blackened ruins of the ward at the hospital – footage that has become grimly familiar after fires at facilities including a mental hospital where 38 people died in April.
Ignoring the Vulnerable
Fires have been claiming high death tolls among residents of state institutions such as psychiatric hospitals, drug treatment programs, homes for the disabled and schools for the past ten years, raising questions about safety standards… and why they are not being enforced.
Again, via Reuters:
“Psychiatric hospitals are the worst of all,” said Yuri Savenko, president of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia. “Their condition is pathetic. It’s inevitable that such things will occur increasingly often.”
Savenko said miserable conditions at mental hospitals had pushed up fire death tolls. He said a third of the buildings at such facilities had been declared unfit for use since 2000.
A doctor said there had been plans to move the patients to a newly renovated building elsewhere in two years, RIA reported.
Russia has also been plagued by accidents on its roads, rails, rivers and in the workplace over the past decade. Kremlin critics point to a culture of negligence and avoiding responsibility they say has been bred by President Vladimir Putin‘s ruling style during more than 13 years in power, and that Putin has made little progress stemming the corruption and corner-cutting blamed for many deadly accidents.
Which raises a question: in his totalitarian utopia, why has Putin been unable to root out said corruption and negligence? Could it be that he, like Hitler before him, views residents of such facilities as undesirables, cancers on the body of Mother Russia, and welcomes their “accidental” deaths?