Fires cause considerable damage to the national economy and state budget by destroying or damaging valuable properties, endangering lives of the population. They also cost considerable resources to combat.
Indexes that describe the fire safety situation in Latvia are some of the worst among countries that compile such information.
State Audit turns the attention of responsible officials and society to the fact that results of the recent fire safety evaluation point to the fact that fire safety regulations are currently being ignored in many important areas of the national economy. Results of the audit reveal that compliance with fire safety regulations is not considered a priority in the country. Violations have been noted in 70.1% of objects managed by state and municipal administration. In 46.4% of institutions, violations have present for years.
The situation is critical in the field of monitoring of fire safety compliance. Although the number of fires goes down every year, the total number of fire safety inspections has significantly declined over the past decade – more than 20,000 inspections had been carried out in 2006 and only 8,000 in 2015.
In most education, culture and other institutions, fire safety is not a priority. 31.0% of education institutions, 28.6% of culture and sports centres and 26.0% healthcare institutions do not even have fire extinguishers or fire extinguishing systems.
Although violations often remain unaddressed due to budget constraints, SA has uncovered that this is not true is some cases. One-third of inspected healthcare and social care institutions do not have an evacuation plan developed for their patients. In addition, officials could not provide any plan of action in the event of a fire.
Compliance with fire safety regulations falls on owners and managers of buildings and territories. It is also highly important to make sure society is well informed of fire safety regulations. In addition, authorities should carry out monitoring of compliance with fire safety regulations.
Administrative penalties for failure to comply with fire safety regulations are applied shockingly rarely in Latvia. Although violations are noted at more than 90% of inspected objects, administrative penalties, according to information from the State Audit, are applied only in 5% of cases.
«State Audit turns the attention of policy-makers – Interior Ministry in this case – toward unfinished work. The state has failed to identify long-term goals in fire safety policy and potential results in the sphere of improving compliance with fire safety regulations across the country,» – notes State Auditor Elita Krumina. «It is hard to accuse the State Fire and Rescue Service in lack of goals in their work, especially if there are no goals to speak of. As a comparison: Estonia is a country that had been worse than Latvia in regards to fire safety compliance not too long ago. Now, however, thanks to clearly defined goals, their fire safety level is ways ahead of Latvia.»
With the increasing number of fires, SFRS requires more and more resources. Unfortunately, Latvia lacks a nation-wide fire safely policy for the allocation of all available resources. Unlike other countries that are ahead of Latvia in terms of fire safety, our country does not use the full potential of volunteer fire fighters. There are too few of them in Latvia. Experience of other countries, however, shows that their numbers can be higher and assistance – invaluable.