The death toll from a fire at a shopping centre in the Siberian city of Kemerovo continues to rise. At the latest count, 64 are dead. Most of the victims were young children. Deadly blazes in shopping centres, apartment buildings and other public structures have become far too common in Russia. The authorities must take drastic steps to save the lives of innocent civilians when public structures become death traps. A video first posted on Telegram shows how rapidly the fire spread as the centre was consumed by smoke.
There is a common thread of negligence in the construction and maintenance of large public structures that has thus far been insufficiently addressed by the authorities. Firefighters have identified highly flammable thermal insulation as being the main reason that the fire spread so quickly and proved difficult to extinguish. Meanwhile, eye witnesses report that fire alarms failed to sound, while some emergency exit doors were locked from the inside.
Russia’s Ombudsmen for Children, Anna Kuznetsova has been perfectly clear that negligence is the reason that what could have been an easily contained fire turned into a deadly inferno. She stated,
“Negligence is the cause. All norms are written. But the way we treat these [security] norms is the catastrophic cause of the tragedy we have witnessed today”.
The tragedy in Kemerovo could have been easily prevented if corrupt and avaricious building contractors did not cut corners during construction. Likewise, the operators of the shopping centre were further negligent in failing to maintain effective fire alarms, sprinkler systems and well lit escape routes in the event of an emergency.
While Russia has laws on the books designed to ensure the safety of large public structures, these laws need to become far more elaborate. Both new and old laws must be enforced much more acutely. Furthermore, Russian authorities should consider far harsher penalties for violations in construction and building maintenance up to and including a re-introduction of the death penalty for those found guilty of gross negligence.
A society is only as strong as its infrastructure and at present, the Russian authorities, particularly at a local and regional level have themselves been derelict in their duties to ensure safe public spaces and homes for the Russian people.
The deterrent quality of the death penalty in cases of negligence should not be underestimated. Corrupt building and maintenance companies will only cut corners and use inferior construction products, while failing to safely maintain structures if they think that they can get away with it. If strict prosecutions of all those responsible for the shopping centre inferno are not pursued to the furthest extent of the law, they will have gotten away with mass murder and others will continue to priorities saving money over saving lives.
Russia must take immediate steps to inspect all large public structures throughout the country, force urgent repairs when necessary and prosecute all those who continue to be negligent. Anything less will represent a total abrogation of government responsibility to the people.