B1/2008Y Fire in a Shelter House in Espoo on 27 March 2008
A wood-frame shelter house caught fire in the early hours of Thursday, 27 March 2008, leading to the death of five people. In addition, one person was severely injured and four were slightly injured.
Alcohol was consumed on the premises on Wednesday night and the evening was spent in the normal manner. The shelter’s four tenants were in the building alongside six guests. Apparently, everyone was asleep when the fire started in the stairway room. Most of the persons in the shelter woke up to the smoke and some to the screams of those who had already awoken. Two persons managed to escape from the main floor, one from the top floor and two from the basement. Three persons died on the main floor and two on the top floor.
One of those who managed to save themselves from the basement made an emergency call to the emergency response centre. A police patrol was the first to arrive on the scene, followed by an ambulance and soon thereafter a rescue unit from a nearby fire station, which arrived about four minutes after the receipt of alarm. At this point, five-and-a-half minutes had transpired from the emergency call. The on-duty chief and fire master from the Länsi-Uusimaa Department for Rescue Services were the next to arrive, followed by another rescue unit 14 minutes later. All five who managed to escape the fire were already outside when the authorities arrived. Both floors were fully ablaze by the time the first fire brigade unit arrived on the scene.
The shelter was a one-and-a-half-storey, one-family wood-frame house built in the 1950s, which the City of Espoo had owned since 1985. Four tenants inhabited the shelter, each of whom had made their own rental agreement for one of the rooms. The washing and kitchen premises were shared. The tenants were men with severe substance abuse problems.
The building’s fire safety was poor considering the building's use and the general condition of the tenants. No rescue plan had been drawn up and the information recorded in the property register did not match the building's actual use. According to the register, the building was being used as standard housing even though the municipality was using it as a shelter home for people with severe substance abuse problems. A fire safety inspection is required only once every ten years for buildings used as standard dwellings, but these requirements are considerably more stringent for buildings accommodating special groups. Various parties were aware of the actual use of the building and the resulting poor fire safety, but this knowledge was dispersed and not possessed by the parties with decision-making authority. As a result, no action was taken. Special groups like the building’s tenants require housing that is considerably safer than normal.
The investigation commission recommends that all shelter homes for persons suffering from substance abuse be inspected and that the condition of such homes be regularly monitored. Shelter homes with poor fire safety should be ordered to be closed or the necessary repair work should be completed. In addition, arrangements should be made to ensure that any fire safety shortcomings identified within the systems kept by the authorities are communicated to the relevant authorities in such a way that the information is recorded and that the appropriate action is made obligatory. With regard to rescue operations, the investigation commission recommends that responsibility for systems used for relaying tasks requiring a quick response be placed with a specified authority and that systematic processes be established for the assessment of the reliability of these systems.