Monday, November 19, 2012

Sound the alarm

“My husband tried to use the fire hose but there was no water. Not even one drop came from it…It is just there for decoration.”

So said one of the residents of Tamweel Tower in Jumeira Lake Towers, as reported in 7DAYS.

It’s a miracle then that no-one died or was injured in the fire early on 18th November. Over six hundred residents, but according to news reports everyone got out safely.

Questions will inevitably be asked about how a building made of steel, concrete and glass managed to burn so comprehensively. One resident cited the cladding, which “…is cheap fibreglass and it just erupts into flames…”

Well done to the ‘amazing’ Dubai Civil Defence for dealing with the fire and then helping to search the building for people and recoverable belongings.  

It’s incidents such as this that make me realise how fortunate I’ve been when living in various apartments. My first place was in a 12-storey block on Al Wahda Street in Sharjah. I noticed that the fire extinguishers on my floor and elsewhere had pressure gauges pointing at ‘Empty’, and I expressed my concerns regularly to the building management on the Mezzanine floor of the same building. Nothing was done. I went and complained to Sharjah Civil Defence (which is the Fire Brigade) but was told it was the building owner’s responsibility. I also complained that the fire escape stairways were completely blocked at ground level by old mattresses and moribund bicycles. Again, nothing was done. I moved out.

The next place, Grumpy Goat Tower in Sharjah was much newer and much better appointed in the Department of Fire and Life Safety, with smoke detectors on each landing, sprinkler systems and a fire alarm. Not that the alarm was ever tested in the three years I was there, but at least the hose reels and fire extinguishers had stickers showing that they’d been signed off as operational. Here, the problem was limited to blocked fire escapes. There seems to be a habit of parking supermarket trolleys, stepladders, bicycles at the bottom of the stairs. This might be OK from day to day, but what if everyone in the building comes piling down the stairs in the dark following a fire alarm at 2am? People will die in the crush.

My place in Doha was extremely well appointed with smoke alarms in every kitchen, a sprinkler system that extended into every apartment as well as the common areas and under-building parking, and even a fire main. I guess that the Qatar authorities mandated comprehensive fire protection in all new builds.

What about fire alarms? I used to work in a building where the alarm was tested for a few seconds every Thursday at precisely 10am. If the bells rang at any other time, or if the 10am bell didn’t shut up after a few seconds, it was to be treated as a full evacuation. The firm even had appointed fire marshals whose job was to drag people from their computers (“Leave me alone; it’s only a drill”) and force them down the fire escape.

What should we do, in the aftermath of the Tamweel Tower fire? Get a smoke alarm. Check that fire hoses and fire extinguishers are signed off as in date. Insist on regular fire alarm tests. Consider a fire safe for the really valuable documents such as passports and certificates.


1 comment:

Seabee said...

What should we do? Yes, all of that Mr making the use of highly flammable cladding illegal.

The fancy structure on top of the tower was all-but totally destroyed and it was flaming cladding debris that ignited the dozen cars at the bottom of the building.

Had the cladding been fire resistant the fire would have been a fraction of what it was.


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