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'Fire extinguishing equipment alone is not enough for high-rise buildings'

  • Published at 11:40 am April 5th, 2019
The file photo shows an area of Dhaka city Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The residents of the majority of high-rise buildings in Dhaka are at grave fire risk

Dhaka city is crammed with copious multi-storey buildings that were constructed with serious design flaws and no amount of fire extinguishing equipment will make them fire risk-free, according to officials of Fire Service and Civil Defence Department.

In the wake of several deadly fire incidents, Fire Service and Civil Defence officials expressed their concerns after inspecting numerous high-rise buildings in different areas of the capital from April 1.

According to an assessment conducted by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) in 2016, there are more than 2.2 million buildings under its jurisdiction. Of them, 84% are single-storey buildings. Around 3,273 multi-storey buildings are at grave fire risk.

Rajuk has approved the design plans of some 8,730 new buildings in the current fiscal year and thus the number of buildings posing a fire risk has also risen.

Niaz Ahmed, deputy assistant director (DAD) of the Fire Service and Civil Defence department's Dhaka zone, said: "We are not saying that the buildings are risky. We are saying that there are inadequate fire safety measures taken in the buildings when considering Fire Service regulations."

"If the building authorities follow our regulations and install emergency exit stairs and ample fire extinguishing gear, then we will mark their buildings as safe. Otherwise, these buildings will never be safe in case of a fire. People will be trapped inside the buildings because of narrow stairwells or an absence of emergency exits." 

A team of the Fire Service and Civil Defence department inspected a 12-storey building—Hussain Tower—built by Eastern Housing Limited on Kamal Ataturk Avenue in Dhaka's Banani area—on Wednesday around noon. 

Also Read - Do high-rise buildings in Dhaka have adequate firefighting capacity?

The inspection team found some fire safety features incorporated into the building but also inadequate fire extinguishing equipment. There was no water storage, hydrant system, or emergency exit stairs on some floors of the building. Upon assessment, the Fire Service team also came up with some recommendations for the building authority. 

After inspecting the Tower, Niaz Ahmed said: "This building has much better fire safety measures compared to the FR Tower that caught fire on March 28, killing 26 people. It has some inadequacies too. We have identified the errors and recommended changes the authority for implementation." 

The deputy assistant director of Fire Service also said: "Building inspection cannot be done hastily. It is routine work. We inspected the buildings before and also gave the same recommendations then." 

"Almost all the high-rise buildings of Banani's Kamal Ataturk Avenue have been inspected and cautionary banners have been hung in front of the buildings that pose fire risks. Apart from Banani, we are conducting drives throughout city," he added.

While inspecting firsthand, it was seen that a commercial building, Basati Horizon on Banani's Road 17, is exposed to extreme risk in case of fire. There are few fire safety measures in the building. There are no fire hose-reels, adequate extinguishers, emergency exits, or stairs. The building only has two elevators and a narrow stairwell. It has major flaw in its design and also violates the Fire Service regulations.    

Though a nominal hose-reel box was seen in the building, there were no hose-reel pipes and boxes on each of the floors, or fire extinguishers, which is not in line with the terms and conditions of the Fire Service.

Meanwhile, Banani's Ahmed Tower, adjacent to the fire-damaged FR Tower, is now installing a fire hose-reel box on each floor. Following the devastating fire, the building authority is setting up the facilities among other fire safety measures.

In this regard, Md Amir Hawladar, owner of Bahi Bhai Engineering, said: "A fire hose-reel box and extinguishers will be installed on all the floors of the building."

Jahangir Alam, senior station manager of Fire Service, said: "Some vital regulations must be maintained to combat fire risks while constructing a high-rise building. Otherwise, ensuring cent percent security is impossible."