Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Is there any way to stop the fires?

Unraveling the epidemic of fire tragedies in Bangladesh and an urgent calls for comprehensive safety measures

Update : 09 Mar 2024, 11:30 AM

The recent devastating fire on Bailey Road in Dhaka, claiming the lives of 46 people, has once again brought to the forefront the alarming issue of fire safety in commercial buildings in Bangladesh. A string of previous incidents, including the Nimtoli Fire in 2010, Tazreen Fashion Fire in 2012, Tampaco Foils Packaging Factory Fire in 2016, and Churihatta Fire in 2019, underscores a recurring pattern of negligence and inadequacy in safety measures. 

This tragic incident has brought to light the lack of adequate safety measures and the negligence of building owners and regulatory agencies. Examining the historical context of similar incidents, it is evident that the recurring nature of these tragedies demands urgent attention and comprehensive safety initiatives. 

This article seeks to analyze the exact causes of these fire tragedies and advocate for robust safety initiatives to prevent further loss of lives.

Structural failures and lax regulatory oversight

The Bailey Road fire incident, described by experts as a “structured killing,” exposes critical flaws in the structural integrity of commercial buildings. Lack of fire extinguishing systems, absence of fire exits, and non-fire-proof evacuation routes have been identified as major contributors to the high death toll. Fire services and civil defense officials revealed that the mall in question had received three warnings about its inadequate safety measures, raising concerns about regulatory enforcement and monitoring.

The Bailey Road mall's lack of fire extinguishing systems, despite three prior warnings, highlights a systemic failure in ensuring basic safety measures. A commercial building requires both active and passive fire protection systems. The absence of fire exits and non-fire-proof evacuation routes exacerbates the risk, turning these structures into potential death traps. Urgent steps must be taken to enforce regulations mandating the installation of comprehensive fire safety systems.

Loopholes in building codes

The persistence of fire tragedies in Bangladesh can be attributed, in part, to the existence of loopholes in building codes and lax regulatory oversight. Building owners often exploit these gaps, enjoying impunity from compliance. The transformation of residential establishments into commercial spaces without adherence to safety standards poses a severe threat to occupants. Urgent reforms in building codes are essential to close these loopholes and ensure strict adherence to safety regulations.

Accountability and legal actions

A glaring issue in the aftermath of these fire tragedies is the lack of accountability and legal actions against those responsible. Despite the loss of numerous lives, no one has been held accountable or reprimanded for these incidents. Authorities must prioritize investigating these cases thoroughly, ensuring that those neglecting safety standards face legal consequences. 

A robust legal framework and strict enforcement mechanisms are essential to deter future negligence. Training programs on emergency evacuation procedures, proper usage of fire extinguishers, and the importance of adhering to safety guidelines should be mandatory for all stakeholders.

Excessive use of flammable materials

Experts have consistently raised concerns about the excessive use of flammable materials in the interior designs of commercial buildings. The Bailey Road fire and previous incidents highlight the urgency of addressing this issue. Stricter regulations on interior material usage, coupled with rigorous inspections, are paramount to mitigate the risk of rapid fire spread within these structures.

Safety measures

Preventing further fire incidents demands a holistic approach encompassing regulatory reforms, strict enforcement, and public awareness. Immediate steps should be taken to review and update building codes, leaving no room for ambiguity or exploitation. Regular inspections, conducted by independent bodies, should ensure compliance, with severe penalties for non-compliance.

Strengthening building codes and ensuring their rigorous enforcement is paramount. The introduction of severe and consistently enforced penalties for non-compliance serves as a powerful deterrent. Concurrently, launching extensive public awareness campaigns can empower individuals with the knowledge needed to respond effectively during emergencies. These campaigns should focus on fire safety practices, escape routes, and the proper use of fire extinguishers. 

Simultaneously, investing in modern firefighting infrastructure, including advanced equipment and specialized training for firefighters is crucial for swift and efficient emergency response. Additionally, encouraging the adoption of fire-resistant construction practices, such as the use of non-combustible materials and proper compartmentalization, can significantly minimize the potential for fire spread, creating inherently safer environments. 

A collective responsibility

The epidemic of fire tragedies in Bangladesh necessitates urgent and comprehensive action. The onus for preventing fire tragedies lies not only with the authorities but also with individuals and businesses. Building owners must prioritize safety by adhering to regulations and implementing proper measures. Individuals, in turn, should be pro-active in understanding fire safety practices and advocating for stricter enforcement of building codes.

Unless we work together to address the root causes of these tragedies, the lives of innocent citizens will continue to be at risk. This is a collective responsibility, and we must all play our part in ensuring a safer future for Bangladesh.

 

Sumit Banik is a Public Health Activist & Trainer. Email: [email protected].

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