Probe into fire at US firm’s Philippines offices focuses on possible safety lapses

DAVAO CITY: A government investigator into a blaze that led to the deaths of 37 staff at the southern Philippines offices of an American market research firm says there are indications of fire safety lapses that may have contributed to the tragedy.
The December 23 blaze in Davao City broke out at a furniture and fabric store on the third level of a mall, the New City Commercial Center (NCCC), and then engulfed the offices of the US firm, Research Now SSI, on the fourth floor of the same building in choking smoke.
The only person among the 38 killed in the fire who didn’t work at the firm was a mall security officer. More than 100 SSI employees who were on duty that day managed to escape, of whom six were injured.
Initial evidence from an ongoing investigation by Philippine government agencies indicates sprinkler systems on the 3rd and 4th floors of the building weren’t working as their valves were closed, said Senior Superintendent Jerry Candido, who is director of logistics at the Philippines’ Bureau of Fire Protection and one of the lead investigators into the fire.
Candido said that Research Now SSI employees may have been unaware of the fire beneath them for some time because their office had its own alarm that was not connected to the system used by the mall. “That explains why people inside the SSI were not aware that fire is happening just below their floor,” he said in an interview.
His comments are the most extensive yet made publicly on the progress of the investigation.
In a statement issued in the United States on Friday, Research Now
SSI said it is working with the authorities involved in the probe into the fire and is “confident that an impartial investigation will reveal that it has complied with all the security and safety requirements required by law”.
“We are focused on helping our employees and the victims’ families, and cooperating with the government agencies, over the coming weeks and months,” said the firm’s CEO Gary Laben.
Privately-held Research Now SSI is the result of a merger between Plano, Texas-based Research Now and Shelton, Connecticut-headquartered Survey Sampling International, which had operated the Davao call centre, only three days before the fire.
— Reuters