How many people have to die before the government prioritizes safety?

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                     - 3 people died in gas explosion in Ulaanbaatar -

On January 24, at around 1:00 a.m., a tragic accident of a gas explosion occurred near the Dunjingarav market in Ulaanbaatar City. In specific, a heavy vehicle carrying liquefied natural gas and a Nissan patrol jeep collided at the intersection nearby Emart and Dunjingarav shopping centers, and Global International school in khoroo 26 of Bayanzurkh District that cost the lives of three and left many hurt. In the video spread online, a truck carrying liquefied natural gas turned to the right from the second lane of the road behind the Edu Apartment town, and the Nissan Patrol car turned right with the truck at the same time and stopped after turning right, hitting each other. When the jeep stopped, the driver of the heavy-duty truck drove on without noticing the jeep because of the truck’s blind spot, causing the liquefied gas to leak from the barrel and then catch fire. The video of the driver of the vehicle by Dashvaanjil LLC, Ch.Renchindorj showed him running to the guard’s room in a nearby building. He told the guards, “The car slid from the side and punctured the gas nozzle. As soon as the fire started, I got out of the car and ran away to survive. I don’t know if the people in the jeep were able to get out. I was transporting 60 tons of gas from the Dashvaanjil company and was going to Zamyn-Uud.” According to the emergency call about the start of the fire, more than 200 officers of the National Rescue Brigade under the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Fire Extinguishing and Rescue Units 10, 14, 18, 26, 30, 34, 35, and 63 of the National Fire Rescue Department, began working with 48 vehicles and equipment. At this time, the heavy vehicle exploded three times. The sound of the explosion was clearly heard in the vicinity of the 16 khoroolol, which is located 10 km away. Unfortunately, three firefighters died in the explosion.

37 CHILDREN, 79 ADULTS PLACED IN HOTELS

As a result of the explosion, building 207 of the Edu Apartment campus on the south side of the road, Global International School, and building 830 of the Sunny Town neighborhood on the southwest side of the intersection caught fire, and the windows were broken. While the rescuers were working at the scene of the fire, the third explosion occurred and the container with a capacity of 60 tons was thrown. The scene was secured by the police officers, rescuers organized the work of extinguishing the fire and evacuating the residents, and the spread of the fire in the apartments was stopped at 02:15 a.m. and completely extinguished at 04:30 a.m. Along with the police and emergency services, more than 600 people, including medical personnel, military security forces of Ulaanbaatar Railway, Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, and electricity distribution organizations, worked at the scene of the fire to ensure the safety of citizens, provided medical aid and services, and support in extinguishing the fire.

An Emergency group headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the National Emergency Commission S.Amarsaikhan worked on the area. The Deputy Prime Minister told the media at that time, “It is a tragedy that three firemen who were working to put out the fire were killed in the explosion. Because this incident happened near the residential area, the apartment blocks were on fire. Residents were contacted and arrangements were made for evacuation and temporary accommodation. As a result of a fire in a residential area, more than 1,000 households’ electricity have been cut off and precautionary measures have been taken. So far, electricity has not been provided to 60 households, while others have been connected. 15 people who were scalded and burned due to the explosion were taken to the hospital. More than 20 cars were burned by the fire.”

Head of NEMA, Major General G.Ariunbuyan informed on the day of the fire, “40 citizens of the apartment were affected by the fire, including 23 adults and 17 children, and have been temporarily relocated and accommodated in the Cooper Hotel located in the 13 khoroo of Bayanzurkh District. Also, about 30 cars were burned. Unfortunately, because of the explosion, three firefighters died on the job. My deepest condolences to the families of the firefighters.”

The Ministry of Health reported that three people were killed in the fire, 10 people were taken to the Burns department of the National Trauma and Orthopedic Research Center, one person was sent to the Central Military Hospital, and three children were sent to the National Center for Maternal and Child Health Center for medical assistance and services. As of January 24, six people are in the intensive care unit and four people are in the general ward. Six people in the intensive care unit are in serious condition, especially those with 80-90 percent burns, and all of them are on ventilators. The hospital has no problems with treatment services, and there is enough stock of essential medicines. However, since there is a need to reserve albumin protein preparations, which are essential for burn victims, the hospital requested funding from the minister. The Minister said that he would urgently process financing and supplied 30 urgently needed grain pumps. They also informed that anyone who needs therapy can receive treatment by calling 1800-1200.

When we went to the scene of the accident on January 24, the police officers were guarding the area. In specific, traffic has been restricted for 200-500 meters of the intersection. According to the Special Commission of Bayanzurkh District, from the 198 citizens of 61 families who became homeless, 116 citizens (79 adults, 37 children) from 30 families are staying at the Cooper hotel. Green Electric Engineering Led LLC spread 19 tons of substances, five tons of salt, and seven tons of gravel at the intersection of Dunjingarav to prevent slipping. 14 road and field cleaning workers from the company, 135 workers from Bayanzurkh eco-improvement and services, 40 workers from six garbage transport organizations, 39 with special equipment, cleaned the road and opened it last night. 25 prosecutors were appointed from the Transport Prosecutor’s Office, the Bayanzurkh District Prosecutor’s Office, and the National Prosecutor’s Office to participate in the inspection of the crime scene.

The fire affected the families in the eastern part of building 207 of the Edu Apartment, and it was revealed that a family on the tenth floor suffered a lot of damage. In specific, all the furniture of that family was burnt. However, the windows of the houses facing east in Sunny Town were broken and the fire was only slightly ignited in the area where barrels were thrown. The case is being investigated under the violation of criminal code where two or more people’s lives were lost due to violation of traffic safety. According to the official information of the police investigating the crime scene, apart from the death of three emergency service personnel, there were no casualties, and many people were injured. Firefighters of the 63rd firefighting and rescue unit, officer Sh.Amgalanbayar, officer D.Barsuren, and officer E.Tuvshintur died unfortunately. They were 28-37 years old and had worked in emergency organizations for many years.

WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BLAME FOR THE EXPLOSION?

          The National Emergency Commission (NEC) held a meeting and informed the media about the fire that killed the rescuers who were doing their work and left many families homeless in the middle of the cold winter. S.Amarsaikhan said, “To the families, relatives, friends, and colleagues of the emergency service personnel who sacrificed their life for the sacred work of saving the country and people from disasters, on behalf of the government, I would like to express my deepest condolences. In winter, these citizens cannot enter their homes. Law enforcement agencies conducted inspections and secured the accident scene. Since it will take a long time to identify the guilty party, hold them accountable, and pay for the damages, without waiting for that, a working group headed by the Capital’s Governor Kh.Nyambaatar and Deputy Governor P.Sainzorig, was established. Ulaanbaatar City, NEC and the government decided to start the work of urgently repairing and bringing the apartments of 60 families to normal condition, and in the meantime, to place them in qualified apartments without worsening the situation of the families and paying the rent. Other necessary measures will also be implemented.” On this occasion, Head of Public Order Protection and Public Safety of the National Police Agency Colonel N.Lkhagvasaikhan said, “Dashvaanjil LLC’s car with license plate number 2167 UE... was approved by resolution No. 102 of 2014 of the City Council of the City Council. According to Clause 2.2 of the Regulations for Permitting Trucks to Use Traffic on the Capital’s Streets with Time Limits, there was no preliminary information that Class C and E permits were obtained from the Capital’s Department of Transportation.”

However, Director of Dashvaanjil LLC N.Baatarjav said, “Our company implements ISO standards in gas transportation and distribution. Our drivers ensure their safety according to the rules and regulations. But last night’s accident happened because the car made a double turn on the “blind” side and collided with it”. The owner of the Nissan Patrol car was registered under the Finance, Investment Department of the Ministry of Defense and was determined to be driven by an authorized official of the ministry’s Construction Commissioning Office E.Munkhnaran. Some websites reported that he and the driver of Dashvaanjil were detained, but the prosecutor and the police denied this and stated that no one was detained. Alcohol was not found in their blood samples and E.Munkhnaran told his close friends, “The driver of the heavy truck did not listen to the horn and drove off. At this time, the nozzle of the vehicle broke off, and the driver stopped when there was a cracking sound.”

Government officials said that the vehicle of Dashvaanjil gas company did not receive permit rights. However, regarding this, the company’s Regional Director L.Munkhjargal held a press conference. He said that there are rules for the use and safety of gas industry equipment. The vehicles to be transported are equipped and inspected according to this standard. The company has a vehicle base responsible for this. The service is carried out by qualified vehicles. Currently, there are about 20 vehicles with barrels or pressure tanks in the local and urban areas.

L.Munkhjargal said, “We buy and use LPG or liquefied petroleum gas vehicles manufactured in Russia, China, Korea, and Japan that meet the requirements of Mongolia and international standards. In 2019, according to the order issued by the Deputy Prime Minister, he went along the route of transporting dangerous goods. Gas fuel was transported by a vehicle that met the standards on the specified route and time. Permits for intercity transport were obtained every six months. Details will not be given as it is under investigation. The crashed vehicle was entering and exiting the city. The tank truck involved in the accident is a new vehicle purchased in January 2024. It was the fourth shipment.”

“The driver has a qualified driver’s license and has completed gas transportation training. It is not possible to give information about the cause of the fire. Professional organizations will determine where the explosion came from,” continues L.Munkhjargal.

The company also reported that they will employ a group of lawyers and researchers to resolve people’s losses as people’s lives were lost and properties destroyed. In addition, regarding the driver Ch.Renchindorj, the company stated that they will protect his legal interests and take responsibility for the legal and economic situation.

The company further asked people to stop making assumptions and reporting fake news before the conclusion are made.

However, people on the internet are saying that the driver of the Nissan Patrol stopped on purpose after turning right because the driver of the heavy vehicle kept signaling him.

DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS IN MONGOLIA EXPRESS THEIR CONDOLENCES, BUT WHERE ARE MONGOLIAN LEADERS

In connection with the accident, International Ambassadors in Mongolia expressed their condolences to the people of Mongolia and the families and close relatives of the citizens and servicemen who lost their lives in an untimely manner. For example, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the European Union to Mongolia Axelle Nicaise, American Ambassador Richard L. Buangan, and British Ambassador Fiona Blyth, expressed their condolences to the Mongolians through their official websites. Also, the diplomatic missions of many countries, such as Canada, China, Japan, and Turkey expressed their condolences and shared their grief to the victims of the accident through their social media accounts.

However, Mongolian government officials, authorities, and capital city officials remained silent for a long time. The accident happened at 1:00 a.m.. NEC held an official meeting and a press conference about 13 hours after that. About two or three hours after that, when the sun was about to set, the government published an obituary on its website, saying, “We are working quickly to establish the cause of the accident, estimate the damage, provide medical aid to the victims of the accident, ensure the safety of citizens, and organize the necessary assistance and services,”. None of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament, and the Governor of the Capital City have officially expressed their condolences for the past events and paid respect to the people and their families who lost their lives, health, and property due to the accident. They weren’t even seen.

1 IN 4 FIREFIGHTERS HAVE SPECIAL PURPOSE CLOTHING

During this time, citizens began to notice the equipment and clothes the fire fighters of the NEMA were wearing. They noticed firefighters don’t even have the designated clothes to protect them from fire. The Deputy Minister, S.Amarsaikhan reported that one in every four workers of NEMA have professional protective clothes saying that there wasn’t enough budgeted for them. But , Minister of Finance B.Javkhlan accused him of saying these for political reasons. NEMA held a press conference on the clothes and equipment they used for firefighting. Head of a department at NEMA and colonel Ya.Gantumur said, “Officers’ clothes are classified into technical clothes, special clothes for each person, and everyday clothes. In terms of technical clothes, equipment and technical issues were resolved within the framework of the agreement between the French and Polish governments. For special purposes and everyday clothes, purchases are made according to the amount of funds provided in the State budget. After the flood of July 2023, by government resolution No. 294, funds were increased in the budget and Minister of Finance B.Javkhlan was ordered to implement this. In doing so, 15 billion MNT was budgeted”. Special fire suits made in Western Europe cost about 2,000-2,500 EUR. However, because it is not suitable for Mongolia’s weather conditions, they use clothes made in Siberia.

Lieutenant Colonel at NEMA P.Soronzonbold said, “Special purpose clothing has its own standards. In specific, each has its own standards for object fires, and forest fires. This standard is followed, and purchases are made. The standard includes self-contained breathing apparatus used with clothing, battle axes, individual tools, and helmets are included. There are regulations for wearing these types of protective clothing with complete equipment. Previously, filtered air masks were used, but now compressed air masks are used. The compressed air mask breathes pure oxygen air, so it will work for an average of 40 minutes, depending on the load. Fire clothes are resistant to +400 degrees. 80 percent of all servicemen were provided with these clothes. Because the capital brigade has a high workload, these officers have been fully provided with special purpose clothing.”

Head of NEMA G.Ariunbuyan said, “Although the government is paying attention to the improvement of clothing, there are still needs. Currently, the supply of special technical equipment is 57 percent nationwide and 55 percent in the capital city. The supply of personal protective clothing is 35-48 percent. It is a fact that the special purpose clothes are passed on among the four servicemen. About 300-350 billion MNT is needed to purchase all the clothing and accessories. From the 15 billion MNT budget, 10-20 percent is used to renew clothes and equipments. However, regarding January 24, all the officers who entered the fireplace performed their duties with special labor protection clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus.”

GAS STATIONS NEAR SCHOOLS AND KINDERGARTENS TO BE MOVED

Following this, the Ministry of Education and Science made a statement. It said that in recent years, due to population density, one of the issues that must be considered in urban planning related to fire safety norms and rules is gas stations built too close to schools and kindergartens. They reported that a clear example of this can be seen from the fire at a gas station in Darkhan-Uul Province at the end of 2022, and measures were taken to evacuate children from nearby kindergartens and schools. Currently, 16 gas stations are located within 200 meters of 13 schools in the capital city. There are two in Bayangol District, five in Bayanzurkh District, one in Sukhbaatar District, two in Baganuur District, three in Khan-Uul District, two in Chingeltei District, and one in Songinokhairkhan District. Also, Minister of Education and Science L.Enkh-Amgalan presented during the meeting of the Special Commission that there are nine gas stations located within 200 meters of nine non-state owned schools. A special working group was established by the State Special Commission on this issue. In the spring of 2023, the Minister sent letters to government agencies who give lands to gas stations, and those who built them reminding them to make child-friendly decisions, plan what to build, and foresee risks. The Minister also said that he would work especially on this matter.

DEAD FIREFIGHTERS’ FAMILIES TO BE SUPPORTED

          At the government meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister gave orders to relevant officials. First, the PM gave orders to NEC and NEMA on supporting the livelihoods of the families of the people who were killed by the explosion. In addition, support will be given to those who have lost their homes and those who have been burned. Based on professional construction companies, the government will fix the homes of the 60 families as well as pay for their rent until the situation gets resolved, which is valued at 1.4 billion MNT. Moreover, a working group was established made up of authorities and researchers to resolve the unmet standards, set international standards, and implement standardization in all societal problems. Therefore, the government invited professors, engineers, and specialists to work together with them and if needed, the government will ask for suggestions from international organizations. The Deputy Prime Minister said that there will be a nationwide movement on following standards and regulations and to clear all the past mistakes. Furthermore, the Prime Minister gave an order to the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs to have an open discussion about land distribution.

In other words, cases like this have happened before and yet no preventative measures had been made by the decision makers of Mongolia. In addition, gas stations are not only built close to schools, but some are also built right in the middle of neighborhoods. For example, Petrovis and MT gas stations at the 13 khoroolol are built right next to neighborhoods, offices, and a bus station. Also, the Shunkhlai gas station near Narantuul market is located right next to one of Mongolia’s major markets where thousands of people go to shop daily. According to the National Institutes of Health, public buildings must be located no closer than 60m to gas tanks and liquid dispensers, and yet, this standard is not followed in Mongolia.

This was not only caused by reckless driving of vehicles. This was also the fault of the government and land distributors. There was recently a case where another employee of NEMA died while trying to save someone from a burning apartment. That time, the issue of apartment safety was discussed. For instance, the buildings were built close to each other, and emergency officials could not get in fast, and the smoke detectors were not working. Since then, a month has gone and yet not a single improvement has been made. People who survived the fire of January 24 told the media that they were woken up by their neighbors knocking, not even the alarm system that was established to warn them of danger. There have been plenty more cases of fire such as this. However, even after many died, the government refuses to accept that they should receive the blame for this too. There have been no acknowledgements and no preventative acts. The only job they are doing towards safety is talking, establishing working groups, and bickering with each other rather than actually showing results and saving people. This didn't just happen once or twice. So, I want to ask, when will the government prioritize our safety and when will we citizens choose a government that cares for us?

Amarjargal Munkhbat

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