Are You Prepared For A Fire In Your Building?

Most residents in the GCC seem ill-equipped to handle a fire emergency, writes Aarti Nagraj. But are they the only ones to blame?

Almost half of GCC residents have never taken part in a fire drill, and up to 50 per cent have never had the fire safety equipment at home tested, found a new survey by international fire equipment manufacturer Honeywell.

While 26 per cent of the respondents admitted to ignoring the fire alarm, 25 per cent said that they didn’t know where the fire exit in their building was.

The results are appalling and surprising in equal measure, especially since they come so soon after the region witnessed two massive fires last year: a fatal blaze in a mall in Doha that killed 19 people ¬– including 13 children –and a dramatic inferno that gutted a building in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT).

“The results of the survey reveal an alarming lack of awareness among the GCC’s residents,” said Mark Fenton, business leader for Honeywell Life Safety, MEA.

According to Fenton, the general attitude towards safety is – ‘it has never happened to me, so I don’t have to bother.’

That’s a phrase we have all heard – and maybe used – many times.

Living in a high-rise building can have its disadvantages when it comes to responding to a fire alarm; running down several flights of stairs in the middle of an important job – all just for a drill – can seem a waste of time.

So it becomes easier to ignore the alarm and deal with the problem when it arises.

While that approach needs to change, there is another aspect to fire calamities in the region that begs for attention.

In a recent meeting organised by Honeywell, officials from Dubai’s Civil Defence department assured journalists that building fire safety standards were constantly monitored and that violators were punished with stiff fines.

While that’s encouraging, what happens when a fire breaks out?

Soon after the JLT fire in Dubai, all kinds of rumours raged about the reason for the blaze, from cigarettes to faulty materials. Unfortunately, there was no immediate official report detailing the actual cause and allaying unwarranted fears.

When asked how long it takes for a report to be released, the Civil Defence authorities delegated that responsibility to the police.

In a story Gulf Business recently wrote about major fires in the UAE, it was almost impossible to find official reports released by the police outlining specific reasons for the accidents.

While the outlook of residents in the region certainly needs to change to prevent fire disasters, quicker and transparent responses from authorities will also go a long way in averting future calamities.