06 January 2010

A Look at Fire Safety In Russia from the 10th Floor

St Petersburg 001
December Courtyard SPB

A Little Bit of Chaos…

I’m accustomed to chaotic apartment life  and resulting safety issues in Russia.

When our powered failed at New Year's, we looked in the hallway to see if our neighbors had noticed.  All we saw was black.  I remembered we have no emergency corridor lights, and I started thinking.... about fire safety in our building.  Maybe it wasn't much better than what existed in Perm, where so many people died from smoke, fire, and confusion. 

A high-rise according to most architects is from 6 to  38 floors.  We live on the 10th of a 12 floor apartment completed in 1988.

Almost all Russians in cities live in large apartment complexes.    Urban living is still a magnet drawing people from villages, and from the stans… countries of the former Soviet Central Asia.

Meanwhile, back in the States

Americans usually live in single family detached homes.  Many of them have had little or brief apartment experience. 

I grew up in Maplewood NJ, an attractive suburb of Newark and New York City,  in a home that was built in 1910 but in good repair. Three times I lived in garden apartments, never more than two floors, and once for five months in the high-rise Weequahic Towers in Newark NJ.

Comfortable apartment in an unnecessarily unsafe building…

Our apartment in St Petersburg was built quickly, not always accurately, and sometimes with poor quality materials.  The result is a prematurely aged building, with fire related hazards… bad pipes, poor wiring, cluttered hallways… and with lackluster upkeep.

Most apartments within our building are great places to live.  Russians like to shut their doors and forget the many problems on the street.  Our apartment is relatively spacious, clean, nicely decorated and has a homey atmosphere. 

An American interest in appearances… 

As a typical American I cared about the outside appearance of my home or office.  Russians often don’t have this mind set… the exteriors of some stores, even the dentist’s office, look terrible to my eyes and cry for repair and paint.

In America, entrance ways to apartments are a form of advertisement.  In Russia of the late 80’s housing was in short supply, so there was no need to build attractive vestibules. 

We have the main entrance on Cizova Prospect and another from the courtyard.  Upon entering, there are two elevators in a darkened hallway.  It’s a rule of life here to never have all ceiling lights on… what works or has bulbs will do… so most corridors are predictably dimly lighted.

The elevators do not raise confidence…

Our elevators squeal, groan,  but slowly get people to their floors.  Often one is out of repair or being filled by someone during repairs or moving. 

The grid floor in the larger elevator was swiped a while ago.  Now both lifts are vandalized, marked, and uninspiring.  Recently a new Internet service put small face mirrors with their name on the walls of each elevator, a welcome improvement.

Here too, there’s a lot of nothing… that is, there has never been a glass frame with inspection notations.  We  have inspectors, but like the police, we never or rarely see them. 

What do no inspection initials indicate?  To me it indicates probable corruption.  Enforcement people are sometimes known to look first for a bribe, and then maybe do some of their assigned work.  

Few are prepared for a fire…

Fire doors are often propped open to air out the corridors.  The vornikee, Tajiks, have good intentions but fire doors should be closed.  These workers clean the public spaces, get garbage out of the basement chute, keep the outside neat. 

There are no fire alarms, no fire drills,, no hallway smoke or fire detectors, no posted exit maps, many lights out on the stairs, the sprinkler system is a mystery  

Russians are the least safety conscious of Europeans. 

The mind set is…  If you worry too much about something it is more likely to  happen.  People  look to their top-down government to eventually fix or improve things. 

The statistics tell the story…

2008     USA                  3,400  fire deaths   
                Russia            15,165

2002-4 average         deaths/100,000
             USA                         1.39

2003-5 average
              Russia                10.64

I see that Fire Safety is compromised by …

  • apartments designed with just one exit
  • inadequate warning equipment
  • safety inspector corruption
  • a lackadaisical attitude
  • poor knowledge and incompetence
  • central fire companies, little local presence

The closest fire station to our address is miles away on a route overloaded with traffic.  Russians do not seem to worry about response time… medical, police, or fire.  

When we had a fire in our complex a few trucks drove slowly to the fire location.  The firemen sat for a while awaiting instruction, then stepped out and suited up.  They walked slowly to the entranceway.

Fire safety vigilance and public interest needs to improve…

I have never heard of a volunteer fire company in Russia.   Few would give money to help a fire station get a ladder truck.  

Charity, donation, and volunteer,  are rare words here.  The grass roots have withered.  Solving problems with local initiative is discouraged by popular culture and the government.

Maybe after the nightclub fire in Perm, Russia will be motivated to better control the factors that lead to killing fires.

We appreciate comments!

How safe is the building where you live?

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1 comment:

  1. When I used to live there (18 years ago), there were not even such a thing as fire safety -- crazy times of 90's. hope now is better


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