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Combating the Fire Problem (Part 1)

By

Engr. Khaled Qayum

It seems of the late, fire is very much in vogue in Pakistan. Hardly a day goes by when the television is not showing images of buildings  engulfed in sky high flames. If it is not Karachi, then it is Lahore. If not Rawalpindi then it is Faisalabad. These are the big industrial fires which make the news. Regarding, the smaller residential ones they don’t even make the news and would be much more in number.

What are the contributing factors?

They appear to be many, including:

  • The first one that the modern products and / or, practices for safeguarding against fire hazard are yet to be introduced in Pakistan.
  • Secondly, there is a general lack of awareness regarding fire and how it causes damage.
  • Thirdly, there is a general attitude of laissez faire, don’t bother, or, a deep sense of fate where everything is pre-ordained by God and nothing can change it.

It has been just over a month (February 27th) to be precise, that the Building Codes to be applicable throughout the country for construction, were updated to include provisions for fire hazard. There is a general feeling found in many that since the construction in the country is primarily of brick and mortar, hence immune from fire. It is not realized that it is not the fire, but the smoke which causes biggest damage to human life. Then there is the general do not care attitude.

Presently there are lot of high rise buildings coming up in Pakistan’s major cities. However, the safety against fire has not been accorded the focus which it truly deserves. I would like to narrate an actual incident which took place, an incident that is both funny and tragic at the same time. A few years ago, a major multi-story building located in the main business area of Islamabad, called the Blue Area caught fire at 12th or so floor. The fire department in Islamabad came and they promptly started dousing the building from outside with water which could only reach 4th floor.

When the fire department’s chief was questioned why they would not go up to the fire source and try to stop the fire at the source using fire hydrants, the department’s chief responded that it was too hot up there.

The building was provided with fire alarms which were not functional. Secondly, there were fire hydrants which the firemen would not use as it was too hot up there, or perhaps they were not functional due to desire of saving money. They only kept spraying water from outside which could only reach 4th floor from outside. Hence, the whole building was reduced to a cinder. There was a stark lack of training, and also, the weird thought that it was an act of God.

Let’s look at some hard, cold – or should I say hot, given our subject matter, facts:

Fire incidents reportedly cost Pakistan approximately 16,500 lives each year, and ruin an additional 164,000 lives due to severe, and often incurable injuries and disabilities.

During 2016 alone, 3,390 fires were reported in Lahore. 26 lives were lost, and there were 219 burn victims. Property worth an estimated Rs.911 million was damaged.

The Director General of the Punjab Emergency Service stated that authorities have responded to more than 86,000 fire emergencies and saved property worth over Rs186 billion since the inception of the Rescue 1122 Fire Service. The situation would be much worse when the whole country is included in purview.

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