• Wednesday, Sep 30, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:38 am

Fire alarms could have saved more lives, claim FR Tower survivors

  • Published at 12:56 am April 5th, 2019
web-banani-fr tower-fire
Fire Service working to douse the fire at FR Tower of Banani in Dhaka on Thursday, March 28, 2019 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Rezwan Ahmed survived the inferno, jumping from the 21st floor of FR Tower

More lives could have been saved if the fire alarms at Dhaka's FR Tower had gone off on the day of the inferno that claimed the lives of 26 people last month according to many of the victims, who experienced the horrific reality during the multi-storey building fire.

Those who have been released from different hospitals are yet to be relieved of their mental trauma. While sharing experiences with the Dhaka Tribune, some of them said the inferno could have caused fewer deaths if they had at least been notified that their office building had caught fire. The victims could not even imagine what devastation they were going to face a few minutes’ time. 

Two survivors, including one who jumped off the building, described how fearful the situation became when the fire broke out on the 7th floor of the 22-storey building in one of the busiest commercial areas of the capital.

Anupam Debnath, senior executive of Air Freight division of EURO Services BD Limited, situated on the 11th floor of the building, who is now undergoing treatment at the Burn Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital with both of his hands and some other parts of the body burned, said: “My full concentration during the fire was just to save my life, nothing else.” 

“It was a normal working day when we were on our respective desks … None of us had any idea what was waiting for us. Around 1am, our front desk executive started shouting, saying that a fire had broken out at our building,” he said. 

“There was an alarm bell-like thing hanging on the office wall. But I didn’t hear any alarm, or maybe it was only a showpiece,” exclaimed Anupam.

Panicked, he along with other collogues tried to climb up the stairs, but it had already become too hot and full of smoke, he said, adding: “The floor, wall, stairs, and railing were also hot and none could walk on them easily.” 

“Among us five tried to go upstairs, but could not make it happen due to heat and smoke, and very sad to say they were found dead later, suffocated. The front desk female staff member, who had first warned us about the fire, was among them. Later, her body was recovered from the 18th floor,” he said.  

“When I tried to run through the stairs, my colleague Iftir Hossain Mithu, pulled my leg and requested me not to go. If I go I will die, she said, and I fell down on the floor. The excess heat of the blaze hit my hip and when I tried to stand, gripping the railings of the staircase, both of my palms were burned as those too were very hot. I started to suffocate as there was very little oxygen. Then I felt that if I went upstairs I would die because of the smoke and lack of oxygen. I came back to my office crawling and stayed there for around two and half hours. Later, firefighters rescued me around 3:30pm,” he said.

“Later, I knew that my colleague who had tried to save me had died at the staircase,” he added.

Another survivor, Rezwan Ahmed, a senior executive of Kashem Group of Industries, who is also undergoing treatment at the same hospital, said he jumped from the 21st floor to save his life and survived miraculously.

Six of his bones -- collarbone, both hands, both thighs -- had been broken he said, adding: “I have nothing to say. We didn't hear any fire alarm.”

His father, Monir Hossen, told this correspondent: “I am thankful to the Almighty as he kept my son alive. He is the only earning member of my family. All others who had jumped died.”

During the fire, his son called him, said the father, adding: “I instructed him to go to the roof. But my son told me that his boss, the CEO, had ordered him not to go to the roof and to stay back in the office.”

He again called me and said he could not breathe and was going to die, said the father. “I told him to break the glass and breathe, which he did, but later his cell phone was unreachable,” he added. 

Later, someone called using his son's cell phone and asked him to go to Kurmitola General Hospital, he added.

Most of the survivors said they did not hear any fire alarm. One of the survivors, Dard Group's deputy manager Rashed, who is now undergoing treatment Kurmitola General Hospital with breathing complicacies, echoed others, about the fire alarm. 

“We never had any fire drills … It should be arranged for every citizen of the country. People should know how to act and what should one do to save lives during a fire,” he opined.

Fahim, an employee of Dard group, said: “If there was an alarm system, we would have been aware of it before. I think there was no active fire alarm.”

Nazrul Islam, who was on the 12th floor of the FR Tower during the devastating fire, was rescued by the firefighters and later taken to United Hospital. He said: “No emergency exit doors were there, not even any fire extinguishers along the staircase.”

“The Almighty saved us as our Deputy General Major Moin Hussain was with us … He showed us how to breathe using wet towels and we could save ourselves using those as masks,” he added.

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