Y2014-01 School fire in Kouvola on 11 February 2014
A fire broke out at the Kouvola Co-educational School in the mid-morning of Tuesday 11 February 2014. The fire started from a damaged electrical cable in a closed space behind the switchboard in the corner of the gym. During the morning, the heated cable spread a strange odour, the source of which was investigated to no avail by the school staff and the maintenance man.
The fire developed unseen, grew stronger and spread into the empty gym. Smoke spread into the lobby via the lattice of the organ loft, at which point people started to move outside. The high school principal visited the classrooms, ordering everyone to evacuate. The upper comprehensive school principal ordered evacuation on the PA system and went through classrooms. The announcement was not heard in all classrooms, as in some of them the speakers had been turned down low or entirely off.
The school did not have a fire alarm system that would have detected the fire earlier, given an alarm in the building and notified the ERC. Information about the fire did not immediately reach everyone, delaying the evacuation. One exit route alternative remained unused, as it was not clear enough and people were not aware that it could be used as an emergency exit. For several people, it would have been the shortest and most smoke-free route outside. The classroom in the vicinity of the main doors was the last to realise the situation, when the firemen had already arrived in the lobby and started their preparations. The rescuers rescued two people with a ladder through a window on the first floor on the east end of the school building.
Many of those who exited the building were wearing indoor clothes, and some did not have shoes on. The students and teachers who had moved outside to the field had to wait in the cold and sleeting weather for quite a long time before they were given instructions and permission to move to a warm shelter at another school.
The Emergency Medical Care Units treated nine slightly injured people on-site; a majority of them had minor respiratory problems caused by smoke. Nobody needed to be taken to hospital for treatment. The school building suffered major damage.
The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that
- The Ministry of the Environment shall ensure that automatic fire alarm systems and PA systems are installed in new school buildings with certain justified exceptions.
- The Ministry of Education and Culture and the National Board of Education shall prepare guidelines in order to ensure that the municipalities and other administrators of educational institutes shall carry out a proper assessment of the need for and the functionality of a fire alarm system and PA system.
Furthermore, two recommendations issued during the investigations of the 2007 and 2008 school shootings are repeated:
- The Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health should take steps to compile all security-related planning and instructions in educational institutions into a single document that is updated regularly. The essential elements here are the identification of potential risks; the systematic prevention of these and instructions for various security-related eventualities, distributed to students in pocket-sized booklets, for example.
- It is recommended that the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education and Culture provide schools with comprehensive instructions for drawing up, coordinating, and implementing plans to improve overall safety. The plans should include assessment and prevention of potential risks. This may require the installation of PA systems, lock systems, etc. and the drawing up of protocols for a response to various threats.