Rooftop was accessible, and the company had even received a certificate of commendation from the city of Kyoto for excellent fire safety.

It’s been five days since an arsonist walked into the Kyoto, Fushimi Ward anime studio of Kyoto Animation and set the building ablaze, killing 34 people and injuring approximately as many. As fans of animation and simple human decency struggle to wrap their minds about the terrible tragedy that’s taken place, it’s natural to wonder if more could have been done to prevent the staggering loss of human life.

The anime industry in general doesn’t have the best reputation for treating its workers well or operating with much spare space in its budgets. With that background, some people have wondered if perhaps Kyoto Animation had been negligent in keeping its building up to fire code, and if such dereliction is to blame for the death toll rising as high as it has.

However, in a report to the city council on July 22, the Kyoto City Fire Department says that Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio had taken the proper fire protection measures, including performing employee fire drills, as laid out in the city’s fire code.

Civilian observers and online commenters have raised questions about two specific elements of the building’s design, both related to stairways. Connecting the first and second floors of the three-story studio was an interior spiral staircase, and some have questioned whether or not such a feature was legal, as it would ostensibly make descent slower in the case of an emergency. Spiral staircases are allowed by the Kyoto fire department, though, provided there is also a hanging protrusion from the ceiling, called a tarekabe in Japanese, to block the flow of smoke to the upper level in case of a fire, and Kyoto Animation’s studio did have tarekabe sufficient with the legal requirements.

▼ A Google image search for tarekabe

Many have also voiced concerns about roof access for the building, as the bodies of 19 of the 34 deceased were found piled in a stairwell that connected the third floor and roof. The number of victims who perished there caused some to speculate that the door to the roof had been locked, but investigators have found that this was not the case, and that the door could be opened from the inside, though one Kyoto Animation employee describes the door as having an unusual two-lever mechanism that could be difficult for those who’d never used it before to operate.

Investigators believe that employees were overcome by the effects of smoke inhalation as they attempted to flee to the open air of the roof, and as victims collapsed in the stairwell, it stands to reason that the clogged pathway made it harder for others trying to get to the roof to make progress up the steps, compounding the problem as each new arrival collapsed.

That may make it sound like the above-mentioned tarekabe failed to do its job, but it’s important to keep in mind the standards under which Kyoto’s fire safety laws were likely created. Fire codes are primarily designed to help protect a building’s occupants in the case of an accidental fire. The Kyoto Animation fire, however, was the work of a violent criminal, who showed up in the lobby with multiple canisters of gasoline, with enough fuel that an explosion occurred when he ignited it. As a deliberate attack, the Kyoto Animation crosses beyond the realm of ordinary safety issues and becomes as much a question of security protocols, some of which were shut down at the studio on the day of the attack.

By the standards of ordinary fire codes, drafted in order to prevent accidents and protect occupants in the case of their occurrence, Kyoto Animation’s fire safety protocols had been judged not just sufficient, but exemplary even. In 2014, the Fushimi studio was awarded a certificate of commendation by the fire department for its fire safety compliance.

“Despite our best efforts to rescue those who still had so many hopes and dreams, who still had their futures ahead of them, so many perished,” said Kyoto fire department head Hiroki Yamauchi during the report to the city council, “and we are deeply saddened by their loss.” Meanwhile, Kyoto Animation president Hideaki Hatta hopes to turn the site of the fire into a memorial park dedicated to the victims.

Sources: NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko, Nitele News 24, Jiji
Top image: Wikipedia/MikeHattsu
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