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Migrant detention centre fire ‘should not have happened’ says NFPA

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NFPA’s international development director for Latin America, Jaime Gutierrez, has said that the Ciudad Juárez migrant station incident “should not have happened and should not happen again.”

The deadly fire broke out in a detention centre located in Ciudad Juárez, south of El Paso, Texas, resulting in the death of at least 39 migrants.

The incident has been deemed as one of the deadliest fires in recent history in Mexico. In response, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has emphasised the importance of implementing measures in detention and correction facilities to prevent future incidents.

Although codes and standards, such as the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code provide guidance for ensuring fire safety in detention or correctional facilities, destructive fires continue to occur in such occupancies globally. For example, a fire in an Iranian prison just six months ago killed eight people and left dozens more injured.

Gutierrez highlighted the need for detention and correctional facilities to take better precautions and use guidance from organisations such as the NFPA to ensure the safety of those in their care. He said that the incident in Ciudad Juárez underscores the importance of maintaining safe conditions in these facilities, particularly for vulnerable populations.

Lack of safety measures

Detention facilities must provide staff members with the ability to release detainees in emergency situations, according to NFPA 101. The code also requires automatic sprinkler systems in new facilities if free egress isn’t available. It is unclear if these measures were in place at the Ciudad Juárez facility, which caught fire on Monday, killing at least 39 migrants.

Footage taken of the incident shows smoke and flames quickly engulfing a cell while a person in uniform walks by. Witnesses alleged that guards at the facility did not release detainees after the fire broke out. Mexican authorities have reportedly opened an investigation into eight employees for potential criminal charges.

Officials believe the fire began after some detainees lit their mattresses on fire to protest recent immigration delays and deportations. The facility, located near the U.S.-Mexico border, often detains migrants from South and Central America who have attempted to enter the United States. At the time of the fire, 68 men were held in the section that burned down.

In the wake of the tragic incident, fire safety experts from NFPA are advocating for better measures to keep individuals in detention and correctional facilities safe from fires.

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