A number of fire safety failings at a Philippines shopping mall may have contributed to the deaths of 37 staff of Research Now SSI on 23rd December, according to an initial investigation.
The fire reportedly broke out at a furniture and fabric store on the third floor of the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) mall Davao City, before engulfing the Research Now SSI southern Philippines CATI call center on the fourth floor. A fire safety worker also died in the blaze.
The center was set up in 2008 by data collection firm Western Wats (which was later re-named Opinionology and then merged with SSI) - and had around 500 employees. About 100 staff who were working on the day of the fire managed to escape.
Fire Superintendent Jerry Candido, spokesperson for the Interagency Anti-Arson Task Force, told reporters yesterday that his team had identified lapses in the setup of the mall's fire alarm, sprinkler system, and fire exits during their investigation last week. Candido's task force found that the sprinkler systems on the third and fourth floors did not work, while the mall's alarm system was not interconnected with SSI's own system, which meant that when the alarm was sounded by mall personnel, the call center agents inside the Research Now SSI office would not have heard it. Candido also said that the building's exits were not smoke or heat-proof. Violations may also have included non-compliance of annual emergency drills to test the fire safety equipment, response and rescue capability, sprinklers and emergency exits. In a statement, Research Now SSI said it is working with local authorities in their continuing investigation, and that it is confident that this will reveal that the company complied with all the security and safety requirements required by law.
Customers, colleagues, competitors and Research Now SSI employees have already helped raise more than $104,000 for the families of the victims, while the company continues to fulfil its payroll obligations for the Davao team. In addition, Research Now SSI is providing the Davao employees with grief counseling and helping the victims' families with both financial and counseling support. The firm is currently looking for an alternative site in Davao, and in the meantime, some of the Davao team have been temporarily transferred to work at its 1,000-person Cebu facility.
Gary Laben, CEO of Research Now SSI, said in a statement: 'Speaking for our entire company and especially for our Davao colleagues, the outpouring of sympathy, support and generosity to this horrific event has been heartening and is greatly appreciated at this extremely difficult time. We are focused on helping our employees and the victims' families, and cooperating with the government agencies, over the coming weeks and months'.
Donations for the families of the victims can be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/rn-ssi-fund-in-davao .