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1 April, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 1 April, 2019 06:09:19 PM
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Most high-rises neglect fire safety measures

FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka
Most high-rises neglect fire safety measures

Maintaining a business front office or living a life of comfort and convenience in Dhaka almost invariably means living in a high-rise. In a megacity where urban space comes at a premium, vertical expansion is the answer.

However, laxity in ensuring fire safety by building developers as well as by the owners—which became painfully evident in the recent deadly blaze at FR Tower—has made living in high-rises riskier than ever.

Companies importing fire safety equipment and providing complete fire safety solutions in the country told The Independent that there is neither a dearth of equipment nor of solutions. What is lacking is “honest intentions” on the part of the authorities in ensuring fire safety.

“I held a meeting with a renowned real estate developer just a few days ago. They are constructing a 12-storeyed residential building in a posh neighbourhood of Dhaka. I quoted them a bill of Tk. 1.5 crore for a complete set of fire safety solutions for the building. The best they could offer me was Tk. 10 lakh,” said Al Amin, a director of Compliance BD, one of the country’s largest fire safety solution providers.

“Obviously, I couldn’t come up with a good fire safety solution for them at that price, so I rejected their offer. The irony is that the proposed price of each apartment in that building is nearly Tk. 3 crore,” Amin said.

Amin told The Independent that in the last five years, their company has provided complete fire safety solutions to over 200 establishments. Of these, only four were in high-rises in Dhaka; the rest were in industrial set-ups.

“In the last few years, we received several deals from readymade garments and other industries. They hired us to provide complete fire solutions to their set-ups and we did that. Unfortunately, very few commercial or residential buildings approached us,” he said.

Amin said they import complete fire safety solutions from South Korea. “It’s not just about having some fire extinguishers in the building. It’s about safeguarding the building from a potential blaze through an integrated system,” he said.

According to him, the fire safety measures are best when implemented at the initial stage of the design of the building itself. “Therefore, throughout the construction and building of the high-rise, planned inclusion of fire safety measures in the form of materials, structural modifications, etc., can provide a good foundation for a building that is safe from fire hazards,” said Amin.

The fire safety solutions that Compliance BD provide include fire-resistant construction materials, underground fire refuge areas, fire escape chutes, heat sensors and smoke detectors, overhead water sprinklers and fire hydrants, and wet riser water tanks.

Talking with The Independent, Mohammad Monjur Alam, senior vice-president of Electronics Safety and Security Association of Bangladesh (ESSAB), noted that fire safety matters are no longer limited only to 'fire extinguishment' i.e. 'fighting the fire'.

“The modern concept entails integrated measures on prevention, detection and protection at the planning stage to execute effectively for saving life and property from fire,” he said.

Alam, who is the owner of Symantec Technologies Ltd—which imports modern fire safety solutions—said before the Rana Plaza incident, a lot of fires used to take place in the garments factories. “But in the past few years, because of the imposed buyers-driven reforms, most of the garments owners were compelled to ensure fire safety in their buildings. As a result, human causalities in fires have drastically fallen.”

Alam said the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) has made fire safety measures mandatory for high-rise buildings. “Unfortunately, commercial or residential developers mostly show their reluctance in ensuring this,” he said.

Over-taxation on some of the essential items of fire-safety equipment is also responsible, Alam said. “The taxes on different kinds of fire safety equipment range from 30 per cent to 95 per cent. If the government wants, it can easily reduce these,” he said.

He noted that the government has reduced the tax on the hydrant-pipe—an essential fire safety installable—to only five per cent for the readymade garments (RMG) factories from 95 per cent. “If it can be done for the RMG industry, it can also be done for commercial or residential buildings,” he said.  

Prof. Dr Maksud Helali of the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) told The Independent that high-rise buildings are structurally quite prone to the rapid spread of fires because of the presence of elevator shafts, garbage chutes, stairwells, etc.

Ironically, he said, whenever an incident of fire occurs, the investigation afterwards highlights issues of non-compliant construction and lack of fire safety measures.

Prof. Helali, who was a member of the committee that formulated the ‘Fire Drill and Evacuation Procedure’ section of the BNBC, said the investigation usually finds lack of precautionary maintenance like the upkeep of extinguishers, fire doors, fire exits and their markings and assembly areas.

“Incidentally, all these could be pre-cautioned during the design and construction phase of the building by allocating less than three to five per cent of the total building construction cost. But very few high-rise buildings in the country do that,” said Prof. Helali.

Hasan Habib, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Best Living Properties, told The Independent that they allocate five per cent of the total building costs towards fire safety. “We make no compromise with that. We hire professional fire safety solution providers to install their entire system in our buildings,” he said.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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