Spot checks on apartment houses uncover grave fire safety infringements

Rescue Board spokesperson Irina Belik.
Rescue Board spokesperson Irina Belik. Source: ERR

Spot checks by authorities last week revealed serious deficiencies in apartment buildings' access stairwells and corridors, prompting fears over emergency evacuations in the case of fires in particular.

Irina Belik of the Rescue Board (Päästeamet) eastern center said the spot checks, across Lääne and Ida-Viru counties, yielded very little positive.

"90 percent of apartment blocks inspected are in violation and defective," Belik told ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Sunday.

"The situation was worse than expected. More fire safety requirements, including forbidding the storage of combustible materials, and evacuation requirements, have been violated," Belik went on.

Belik noted that apartment owners often justify storage within stairwells on the grounds that it is a temporary move.

"But there is no temporary status so far as the Rescue Board goes, since a fire can happen at any moment, meaning an escape route must [always] be clear and passable," she stressed.

Arkadi Zakarljuka, board member on six apartment associations in the eastern town of Jõhvi, said the Rescue Board's spot checks were a good way of reminding apartment owners that keeping the rescue routes clean is in their best interest.

Zakarljuka conceded that it is not easy to bring this knowledge to the apartment owners, however. 

"We are really trying to make compromises and clarify things. Experience has shown that [spot checks] are more effective than fines in finding a common language when communicating. Solutions can only be found through mutual understanding and cooperation," he said.

A fire in a social housing apartment block in the eastern Estonian town of Kohtla-Järve left one man dead last month; first responders had been unable to enter the building except by force, by which time the stairwell was full of smoke, and 23 people had to be evacuated.

The fire was the second in the same building within the space of a few months. In early October a blaze had required the evacuation of 46 people and led to two Rescue Board personnel being injured.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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