Hoa, wife of the ill-fated An Phu karaoke parlor owner, says an adequate fire prevention system was in place. People refusing to leave, and “bad luck” resulted in the tragedy.
Three days after tragedy struck on September 6, killing 32 people at the parlor in the southern Binh Duong Province, Hoa talked to VnExpress right next to the scene of the fire, but refused to be photographed.
This is an excerpt of the interview.
Q: As a party involved in the fire, what were the thoughts running through your mind over the last few days?
A: My colleagues working here already called customers to get out, but they did not and this led to deaths. I think that the dead stay dead and so we will not blame them, but the consequences are too severe.
I run the karaoke business in a sustainable way. Those who run the business unsustainably would not have built such a big parlor. If you build it small, you will gain back the initial investment in 6-7 years. If you build it big, you never know when you can gain back that initial investment.
I opened the parlor so that there would be a place for people to receive guests. For example, men, real estate agents, don’t they have sessions when they have to meet customers? Will they go sign contracts without inviting people to go out and sing? Our criteria for opening the parlor were elegance, cleanliness, safety, where everyone wants to come.
It is normal for people doing business to call for a woman to pour their beers. They want to prove that they are elegant, wealthy and capable of hiring someone else to pour beers for them. If you can not, you pour your beers yourself. There is a difference between a man who can hire someone to pour their beers and a man who can not. People often say things about karaoke parlors, but each person has their own opinions, and I can not blame them.
Initial investigations by the police suggest that the fire was caused by a short circuit. Why didn’t the circuit breaker interrupt the circuit when there was a fire on the second floor, instead allowing customers on the third floor continue to sing?
A: I don’t know. The police have not done a full investigation. I hope there would be (clear) results. But what makes you so sure that the customers who stayed sang? Moreover, the parlor’s circuit breaker system is installed for each floor, so if the fire was on the second floor, electricity would still be on in the third floor.
In the past, whenever there was a problem, the circuit breaker of the parlor would interrupt the circuit automatically. In this case, when the circuit breaker on the third floor was not interrupted, it meant the fire had not spread to the third floor yet. However, I do not know where the fire was at. But according to witnesses, when they called everyone to get out, there was still electricity on the third floor.
I heard the manager and staff say that they had already told customers to get out, but they did not and kept sitting in place. There was an employee who went into room 305 and asked a customer to get out, but they did not listen. They even said “There’s air in here and it’s too suffocating out there. Not going.”
The employee ran downstairs and survived. Those who ran downstairs lived, those who ran up the roof terrace lived; only those who stayed inside the rooms died.
There are still too many issues that have not been clarified, including questions about the parlor’s fire prevention system. What would you say to this?
That day, a brother of mine said the parlor was on fire. At that time, I thought that it was just a small fire. We do all our fire prevention work properly, what’s there to be afraid of?
The parlor has been in business since 2015-2016, and we are organized when it comes to fire prevention. At that time, there was a fire in Hanoi (another karaoke parlor fire which claimed 13 lives), so I was scared and did things with the stairs and the fire prevention systems. I did these of my own volition; if something happens it will affect me, so I always think of ways to do things that benefit all parties.
I equipped each floor with a long water hose, with a diameter of four cm, that can be dragged inside each room for daily cleaning. Customers often urinate in the restrooms inside and the rooms stink.
The hoses are installed with the water distribution system, so if there’s a fire on a floor, all one has to do is to turn on the water and point the hose. But that night, our employees were not able to go up and pull the hoses out. The smoke kept getting in, and when someone ran upstairs it was already full of fumes. It must have been due to the decorations and soundproof materials burning. If you want the parlor to be soundproof, without noise leaking out, the walls must be thick.
So you’re confident about the parlor’s fire prevention system?
Yes. I’ve done everything, but when a mishap happens, that’s bad luck and against our will. If the fire already got too big before someone noticed it, how can people run? How can employees get to the water hoses?
People have asked me why I did not make emergency staircases outside. But when I built this parlor, I already made two stairs and two emergency exits on the ground floor. It is very roomy. If I built more outside, I would have had three stairs and no land left. How would I build it then?
The parlor has many windows that were blocked with bricks, making escape, rescue and ventilation difficult. Why?
We had made the windows so it would allow more ventilation, but later, we were afraid that customers would get drunk and jump outside or do something bad, so we covered them up.
A karaoke parlor must look beautiful. It would be weird to install metal bars and windows can also be ugly. Nobody does that. We only make windows where there’s a restroom because it can get smelly.
Since the day of the accident, have you and your husband met with victims’ relatives and learned more about them?
We are cooperating with the investigation now, so we could only send relatives to offer condolences. For now, we have supported each deceased victim with VND30 million ($1,273) and each injured victim with VND5 million. Hospital fees for our employees will be covered by me. Once the investigation is completed, my husband, the management of the parlor and I will go to each family to offer our condolences and provide more financial support for relatives like their children, parents and other loved ones.
The people (staff) who died have worked with me for 5-6 years, of course it’s painful. I was sad to learn that there were people who had already gone down, but then ran back up to get a dog and died. There was also a girl who went upstairs with her friend and also died.
What do you think is your responsibility in all this?
To speak of responsibilities, I truly do not dare to take it all on myself. But now that I have calmed down, I have realized that if people had listened and got out of the rooms, they would not have died, and only I would have suffered property damage. The fire did not spread to anyone else’s house.
My employees, despite not knowing whether they would live or die, still called on people to get out. That was (showing) enough responsibility. But they did not listen, so would we just drag them out? In a fire, we do not have time to drag people out on our own. The fact that an employee could do that much is already enough for the employer.
I want people to see things this way. A parlor that did its fire prevention work well and still got burned, that’s bad luck that nobody wants.
Now that lives had been lost, my loved ones may face legal repercussions. My husband is the owner, who let Khai, a family member, manage things. So who has the most to lose here?
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