PHILIPPINES officials said five senior members of its Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) under questioning over the deadly mall fire in Davao City on Christmas Eve have been relieved of their duties.
According to the Inquirer, the relief order came following task force formed to probe the deadly fire recommended the sacking of key fire officials in the city.
“I personally signed the relief order and it was issued to make way for the investigation,” BFP regional director Senior Supt. Wilberto Rico Neil Kwan Tiu was quoted as saying.
The Dec 23 blaze in Davao broke out at a furniture and fabric store on the third level of a mall, the New City Commercial Center (NCCC), and then engulfed the offices of the US firm, Research Now SSI, on the fourth floor of the same building in choking smoke.
The only person among the 38 killed in the fire who did not work at the firm was a mall security officer. More than 100 SSI employees who were on duty that day managed to escape, of whom six were injured.
Initial findings from a probe showed SSI Office fire safety inspector Leo Lauzon, NCCC Mall safety inspector Joel Quizmundo, chief of the fire safety section of SIR fire station Roger Dumag and station commander of SIR fire station Renero Jimenez have “some liabilities”, said Senior Superintendent Jerry Candido, one of the lead investigators.
SIR fire station has jurisdiction over the NCCC mall.
All four were relieved of their duties, Candido told Reuters over phone. A fifth official, Honee Fritz Alagano – Davao City fire marshal and spokeswoman for the Bureau of Fire Protection in the city – has also been relieved of command, he added.
“They were relieved because they are the subject of an investigation and of course to avoid influencing any witnesses in the investigation and possible tampering of documents within their custody,” said Candido, who is also director of logistics at the Philippines’ Bureau of Fire Protection.
Candido earlier said there were indications of fire safety lapses that may have contributed to the tragedy.
The NCCC mall had been issued a fire safety inspection certificate in April 2017, a requirement for its yearly business permit renewal, Candido said, adding investigators would look into whether any questions were raised when it was granted the certificate last year and in previous years.
“When we conducted a verification inspection (after the fire), we found out there exists several violations of the fire code in the building,” he said. There are problems with “exits, sprinkler systems and alarm systems”.
NCCC assistant vice-president of corporate services Darry Gallego has said the mall could not comment on an ongoing investigation, but stressed that safety requirements had been met, including having a sprinkler system.
SSI’s senior vice-president for global marketing Barbara Palmer said in an email response to a series of Reuters’ questions about fire safety at its Davao offices that the firm could not address them specifically while the probe was ongoing.
Additional reporting by Reuters