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September 2, 2014
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Warehouse staff: sprinklers didn’t work

A large crowd gathers to honour the firefighters who died battling a blaze on Wednesday.
Iron Mountain reportedly cut back on security budget, firefighting services before tragedy

The sprinkler system was not working at the Iron Mountain document storage warehouse in the Barracas neighbourhood when it collapsed Wednesday, said five people who were working at the archive when they testified before prosecutor Marcela Sánchez yesterday, revealing specific details of the first moments of the blaze.

Meanwhile, former Iron Mountain supervisor Mario Escalada said the company had made budget cuts in its security department, including the cancellation of a 24-hour firefighting service.

“They started making cuts and they cancelled a firewatch service, that is now provided only at night,” Escalada declared.

The former supervisor told cable news channel A24 that the company had suffered three other fires.

Prosecutor Sánchez is also expected to question three injured firefighters today who participated in the rescue operation involving the collapsed wall, which crushed seven firefighters and two members of Civil Defence to death on Wednesday, leaving another seven people injured.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, all five witnesses confirmed to Sánchez that, while the fire extinguishers had been working, the sprinklers within the building did not trip into action when the fire broke out.

Two of the five employees — a security guard and a cleaner — both confirmed that an alarm had sounded in one of the warehouse’s sectors. However, when neither saw any signs for concern, they returned to their workplaces and carried on with their tasks. A separate alarm in a different section of the building went off later, they told the prosecutor, leading them to move to that section where they finally spotted flames.

Along with the other three witnesses they then attempted, in vain, to put out the fire with the building’s extinguishers, which were not enough to control the blaze.

Finally, having advised the fire brigade of the incident, they exited the building.

The prosecutor will now “call on Federal Police firemen Martín Coppola and Nicolás Scorza and the volunteer firefighter Daniel Marcos Herrera, who were discharged (from hospital) in the last few hours,” court sources said.

The prosecutor had visited the collapsed building at 1245 Azara street on Wednesday for six hours and spent much of yesterday interviewing the five witnesses, who were accompanied by lawyers from the multinational document storage firm.

Along with the security guard and cleaner, two warehouse operators and a floor manager were also among the witnesses.

Reaction from authorities

On the day the victims of the disaster were bid farewell in Buenos Aires City, fire brigade authorities close to the incident expressed their doubts over the series of events that led to the fire and subsequent collapse of brick walls.

“In these types of fires the walls usually fall inward. In this case the tons of rubble reached as far as the sidewalk across the street” from the building, said the head of the Argentine Volunteer Firefighters, Carlos Alberto Ferlise.

“I was at the fire yesterday (Wednesday) for a couple of hours and what I could see was strange,” he told Radio La Red.

Fire No. 5 for Iron Mountain

The company likely to take centre stage in any ongoing investigations into Wednesday’s fire and building collapse will be Iron Mountain, a US firm whose track record in the last 20 years has been tarnished by four fires — two in Europe and two in North America.

The company spoke publicly on Wednesday and clarified that its Barracas facility “primarily stored archival and inactive business records for local area businesses,” which were entirely destroyed.

Herald staff with DyN, Télam

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