Authorities start Davao mall fire probe

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This photo taken on Dec. 23, 2017 shows people looking at a fire at a shopping mall in Davao City. Thirty-seven people were believed killed in a fire that engulfed a shopping mall in the southern Philippine city of Davao, local authorities said on December 24. / AFP

DAVAO CITY — The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) started its investigation into the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) mall fire that killed 38 persons and left one missing.

Authorities first looked into the area of the mall that was leased by SSI, a call center that employed most of the fatalities.

[We] wanted to know why persons were trapped inside, Senior Superintendent Jerry D. Candido said.

SSI’s operations on the fourth floor were located right below a ten-meter area on the third floor — the location of the mall’s Home Accent section — where the fire started.

“When fire occurs in any part of the mall, SSI will be fully engulfed — that explains why the exits were not used because they were cut off by smoke,” Mr. Candido said in Filipino. “Our current standing observation is that the aircon condenser sucked in the smoke and that’s why the safest fire exit was not used because it was cut off by smoke.”

Based on their findings, they found out that there were no enclosures to make it smoke proof. He also said that the call center had a fire detection system and automatic fire suppression system (sprinklers) but these weren’t connected to the mall. As a result, “the personnel were not made aware that a fire was already happening just below their floor,” Mr. Candido said.

He clarified that this wouldn’t pose a problem as long as the call center’s Fire Detection and Alarm System (FDAS) remained centralized with the mall.

However, the call center didn’t have an “automatic fire suppression system,” he said.

Usually call centers have this system — which will cover its servers because it’s the most fire-prone area — and if a circuit gets shorted, the automatic fire supression system will extinguish it, Mr. Candido explained.

They also initially found out that the material used in the ceiling below SSI is polyurethane (PU) which is combustible.

The BFP is also exploring two theories as to who informed the SSI personnel about the fire: Melvin Gaa, an employee of NCCC Mall who was able to escape but who later died after he went back to warn the others inside SSI or SSI employees themselves who were already alarmed because of the smoke from the airconditioning unit.

While there were enough fire exits, the pathways to these exits were cut off by smoke.

If personnel were properly trained through the regular conduct of fire drills, they could have escaped because all they had to do was to crawl to avoid smoke, he added.

Mr. Candido assured that there will be no cover up with regards to the investigation, which is expected to be finished in two weeks. — Maya M. Padillo