MOSCOW, April 26 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for a closer look to be taken at fire safety following a deadly blaze in a hospital in the Moscow Region.
A total of 38 people died early on Friday in the fire that broke out at a psychiatric hospital in the small town of Ramensky north of Moscow.
“What happened shows that safety issues should be addressed with the utmost care,” Putin said while opening a meeting of the presidium of the Council of Legislators, which unites Russian legislators from the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as regional legislatures.
“I hope both federal and regional bodies will pay particular attention to this,” he said. Putin urged those present to honor the memory of those who died with a minute’s silence.
Earlier on Friday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president had instructed law enforcement agencies and relevant departments to establish the cause of the fire.
Three people survived the fire, after a nurse led two patients out of the burning building, a Health Ministry spokesman said.
A police source told RIA Novosti that most patients in the facility in Ramensky had died in their sleep from smoke inhalation, as they were likely sedated by prescribed medicine.
Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, who was reported to have arrived at the scene of the tragedy on Friday, said her ministry would conduct an inspection of all psychiatric institutions by June 1, 2013. She said that patients had not been restrained in their beds, and that the hospital had last renewed its license in August.
Investigators working at the site of the fire, which started at about 2.20 am and was put out almost three hours later, are considering several possible causes, including a short circuit, violation of fire safety regulations and even arson.
A criminal case has been opened, and the head of the clinic and the surviving nurse are being questioned in connection with the incident, Russia’s Investigative Committee said.
A local emergencies services official told RIA Novosti that firefighters arrived at the scene only an hour after the alarm was sounded.
“The nearest fire station is about 51 kilometers from the site. The firefighters could have arrived earlier if the fire had occurred in the summer, as there is a ferry across the river,” Vadim Belovoshin, deputy emergencies chief for the Moscow Region, said. “Unfortunately, the ferry is not currently operating.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets on Friday lamented the length of time it took firefighters to arrive at the scene. She pledged that a state commission would find out the reasons for the delay.
“Access to the fire service is the right of every person,” she said.
Golodets said a number of safety measures would be developed for hospitals and social institutions in the near future.
The Moscow Region authorities have declared April 27 a day of mourning for those who lost their lives in the fire.