Multi-storey buildings being built ignoring fire safety

The construction of high-rise buildings right next to narrower roads increases the risks resulting from a fire, says expert

The risk of fire hazard is increasing by the day as buildings as tall as 10-12 storeys are being built without adhering to the Building Code while ignoring fire safety plans in all the urban centres across the country, including Dhaka.

The construction of high-rise buildings right next to narrower roads increases the risks resulting from a fire, since it restricts the access of fire service vehicles with heavy equipment in the event of an emergency, leading to more casualties and destruction.

Prof Adil Muhammad Khan, the executive director of the Institute for Planning and Development (IPD) said: “The construction and use of multi-storied buildings are going on in defiance of building regulations and fire safety rules across the country including Dhaka. And these infrastructures are failing to guarantee security for human lives in the event of various disasters, including fire.”

The high-rise structures around the country lack proper arrangement of extinguishing systems such as stairs and exit paths, fire elevators, fire doors, fire detectors, fire sprinklers, fire suppression systems etc. Those buildings without basic fire safety plans are being used for commercial and other purposes without any type of occupancy certificate, Adil said.

Bangladesh needs to establish a building regulatory authority immediately to effectively enforce the national Building Code, adding that this is the only way to ensure proper standards and fire safety in the construction of high-rise buildings across the country, he said.

Concern is growing among people after a fire at a high-rise building in Gulshan that killed at least two people and injured many others, very close to the fourth anniversary of the Churihatta fire tragedy in Old Dhaka that claimed the lives of 71 people in 2019.

The horrific fire incident in the multi-storey residential building in Gulshan again brought to the fore the issue of the weaknesses of the internal fire safety system of buildings and the weakness of overall planning, preparation, surveillance and enforcement of laws in urban areas against the fear of loss of life and extensive damage due to fire in urban areas, said Adil.

“To ensure fire and disaster safety in cities, it is necessary to hold developers and building owners accountable as well as all city agencies including development authorities accountable,” he added.

Currently, seven-storey buildings are considered as multi-storey buildings as per the existing fire safety laws in Bangladesh. However, in the Building Construction Rules, 2008, and the Bangladesh National Building Code, 2020, 10-storey buildings are considered as multi-storey buildings.

So, the fire risk is very high in many buildings above seven floors.

Citing the necessity of a proper investigation into why the authorities have failed to implement the recommendations of inquiry committees formed into past urban disasters including fire incidents, the IPD official said: “We believe that although there are policies to give priority to the safety of people's lives in the city, recommendations are not being fully implemented due to invisible reasons.”

Due to the massive loss of life in the recent terrible earthquake in Turkey-Syria, the issues of our lack of preparedness to deal with disasters, including earthquakes, have been strongly discussed. Analysis of why we have not been able to implement the recommendations of inquiry committees formed into past urban disasters including fires is very important.

Brigadier General Md Main Uddin, director general of Fire Service Directorate, told UNB that everyone wants to build a building, but no one wants to spend money on security. “Invest in security. We need to increase our capacity. Fire safety plan will be implemented. Investment should be made in creating awareness about fire safety from childhood. This should be taught in the curriculum. Training centers should be developed on fire safety.”

He also said to implement the fire safety plan conditions adopted at the time of construction of each building.

Before issuing the occupancy certificate of the building, the opinion of the Fire Service should be taken on whether the fire safety conditions are complied with and a hydrant system should be installed across the city, he said, adding that if the building is constructed with fire safety, the risk will be less.

According to preliminary findings after the Gulshan fire incident on Sunday, the owners of the 13-storey residential building had received a no-objection certificate from the Fire Service during construction.

However, they had not received an approved fire safety plan that is required under the Fire Prevention Act.

Rajuk Chairman Anishur Rahman Mia told UNB that no building is allowed to be constructed without fire safety. Even with the permission to construct a building from Rajuk, many people do not follow the building rules, as a result of which the damage is more in case of fire accident.

He also said: “We have continued operations from Rajuk in this regard. Our monitoring system will be strengthened. Fire safety must be ensured in the buildings that will be constructed from now on after approval from Rajuk.”