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CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE STUDY OF HUMAN MENTAL DISORDERS DURING FIRE,REFERRING TO RECENT DISASTERS
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Fires involving human participation have been reported since the beginning of history. Fires may be classifi ed according to the causes thatgenerated them: natural causes such as thunderbolts and lightning, self-igniting natural gas, fi res ignited by the magnifying glass phenomenon or anthropogeniccauses including sabotage and incompetence. All fi res trigger anxiety and those that occur in communities induce general panic with specifi cbehaviours. Being immature emotionally and cognitively, as well as lacking specifi c training, children and young people immediately manifest psychopathological states of panic dominated by disorientation, paroxysms of anxiety, fl eeing, screams, aggressions against death-fearing neighbours and otherdisorders, often with short psychotic episodes, narrowing of consciousness, horror and amnesia.
The word PANIC derives from the god PAN in Greek mythology. This god had the power to provoke disorder, fear, disturbances among people with feelings of terror and anxieties. This means that such situations have been known since Antiquity. Along the centuries, new data were recorded about various disasters and multiple manifestations of panic. It has been found that human panic states, even in children and adolescents, are similar in various centuries. But in history, there are no reports of fire sufferings endured by adults and children with motor or psychic disabilities or injured persons with these disabilities becoming frequent victims through incineration. It is known that there have been many fires in asylums or hospitals with wooden pavilions.
Among the most famous fires in history, we mention that from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis V.1 - 9), the fire caused by Emperor Nero, who destroyed Rome in the year 64, the burning of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the year 79 due to the eruption of Vesuvius, and so on. In our country, the fires of the 18th and 19th centuries in Targoviste, Bucharest, Braşov, Iaşi, Sântana are recorded. From the past and from recent news and descriptions, it is known that the indisputable victims of fires – produced by day or night - are infants and young children who can not react by leaving enclosed spaces
But , comparing the mental effects of catastrophes, it has been established that psychic disorders are very different according to the nature of disasters. The most destructive are the major floods, pandemics, earthquakes, hunger and war, in which the number of victims came to many thousands of deaths and millions of sufferers. But in the biggest fires there were no more than 1,000- 2,000 victims. One of the most famous fires, in 1666, in London, had no victim; not even the “fire of curtains” at Napoleon’s wedding in 1809. After the huge fire in the Bazaar at Charite in Paris on
May 4, 1897 there were “only” 150 casualties, which is relatively little for such a disaster. Then, the stereotype of collective panic was first discovered and described.
The current systematizations belong to the French researchers at the “Institut International du Feu”, who described the stages of panic in large fires, incendiary bombings, pyrotechnic explosions, or gas leakage deflagrations.
Symptoms that have been selected as specific for mental disorders in fires are sudden loss of mental control and situation control, uncontrolled and dangerous spontaneous flight to larger exits or spaces, including accidents such as falls and crashes, burning of clothes and / or burning of unprotected surfaces of the skin (cleavage, undressed parts of the body), desperate shouts. Combustion gas poisoning produces cyanosis and choking, resulting in loss of consciousness. The disordered flights are dominated by paroxysmal anxiety and death fear/ phobia - (tanatophobia) triggered by group panic.
The sabotage fire of April 7, 1990 on the SCANDINAVIEN STAR passenger ship triggered fear and panic with flights in many directions. In the fire, 159 people died. After this disaster, the Scandinavian countries set up the “Disaster Panic Research Center”. They initiated conditions to prevent panic knowing that “anxiety, fear and panic are stronger than courage”. In the recent fires in Bucharest from “Collective” and “Bamboo” clubs, with the participation of mostly students and other categories of youth, specific manifestations were described and known in the literature on panic from fires. Students, adolescents and young people have been victimized.
The psychological and sociological studies of these catastrophes confirmed the classical knowledge about disorders in collective panic situations. Information
Fig. 1. The fire set by the Turks at Maria Radna Monastery, Arad County, 1780
measures are required to initiate drills in provoked panic to help prevention in situations of psychological dis-inhibition with agitation and resulting in victims
Fig. 2. Sântana fire, Arad County – 2nd of May, 1858 : The escape of adult and child residents
Mental disorders of children, adolescents and adults due to fire disasters are rather frequent threats. The most well-known are the sufferings with burns in domestic catastrophes. The frequency of fires with collective participation is signalled in all countries, and in these instances the anxious psychic disorders, the running away and panic cannot be avoided. Knowing the symptoms of panic, we conclude that training and preventive exercises might control victimization through panic due to fires.
Facsimiles from the Museum of Radna Monastery,
Photography: C. Lupu