When the fire ripped through the hospital, there were 70 patients and four nurses in the building. According to Yahoo News, most of the patients who died as a result of the fire were elderly mental health patients.
Most of the fatalities were patients who were in their sixties and seventies, although some were as young as 40. A list of patients was released by the emergencies ministries.
The Chief of the regional branch of the emergencies ministry, Igor Kobzev, said, “The epicenter of the fire was located in a place where bedridden patients were.” Most patients could not escape.
Rossiya 24, a state-owned Russian news channel, said most of the patients were given tranquilizers as a part of their medication before the fire broke out.
“They simply did not wake up,” said an eyewitness. The victims, under heavy sedation, choked on the noxious smoke and most likely passed before the fire could engulf them.
The fire then tore through the brick-and-timber hospital building. Reports say it took more than 440 firefighters and emergency workers over three hours to bring the fire under control.
Correspondents are calling this tragedy a major hit to the country’s mental health system. Many criticize Russia’s outdated, Soviet-era infrastructure, saying that a lax approach to fire safety is taken in such buildings.
This is the second such incident in Russia in just over two years. In September 2013, 37 people died in a psychiatric hospital fire in northwest Russia.
Studies show that electrical malfunction is the leading cause of non-confined fires in hospitals, but the cause of the Russian hospital fire is still unknown. The Investigative Committee said it had reason to suspect the fire was due to negligence.
President Vladimir Putin shared his deep condolences with the friends and relatives of those who died in the blaze, but critics are blaming Putin for neglecting facilities such as this one.
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman of the Russian Investigative Committee, says that insufficient financing, dilapidated buildings, and staff shortages are the reason for so many tragedies.
This issue reaches beyond Russia’s sub-par hospital systems, and the devastating losses incurred by hospital fires are an international concern. In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association reports that U.S. fire departments responded to more than 1,200 hospital fires in that year alone.
As for Russia, serious changes are in order to ensure the safety of those in mental health institutions and other hospital settings.