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Combating the Fire Problem (Part 2)


Engr. Khaled Qayum

Now, the amusing anecdote I quoted may have given you the impression that Pakistan isn’t adequately equipped to handle what I am going to term, the “fire problem.” That story may have led you to think that our society doesn’t fully comprehend the threat that fire incidents pose.

The statistics I just quoted however, should tell you otherwise. Yes, Pakistan is objectively a little late to understanding the extent to which fire poses a dire threat, but the fact that so many fire emergencies in Punjab alone were met with positive, effective action, is reassuring.

What remains far from reassuring however is the sheer incidence of these emergencies – while it may be that authorities are combatting “the fire problem” well, and to the best of their abilities, the fact remains that the staggering number of fires, and subsequent loss of lives and property, is devastating.

We should not be losing 16,500 lives each year. And another 164,000 should not be getting irrevocably damaged. These are unnecessary losses – especially since it has been reported that most fire emergencies are a direct result of either violation of, or negligent implementation of, fire and lifestyle safety codes.

What this basically means is that more vigilance, and pre-emptive precautionary measures could help save thousands of lives. Securing our buildings – commercial and residential – could make all the difference.

First things first, we need strict implementation of building laws. But even before that, we need to raise the awareness of people regarding “fire problem”. There is a need to introduce precautionary measures and also there is a need to provide the training regarding proper response to the fire hazard.

But it’s important to go a step further. If instead of just implementing existing safety laws and measures, we could start creating more fire-retardant buildings altogether, the potential benefits could be immeasurable. Records state that poor implementation of lifestyles codes predominantly fuels “the fire problem” (pun intended!) – what that by extension means, is that “human error” has a lot to do with said problem. It’s important to go a step further and minimize the potential reach of human error, by making our buildings as secure as possible to begin with, as fire resistant as possible to begin with, without leaving much room for ineffectual or non-existent following of procedure.

Now, something which I came across is fire retardant paint or coating which one of the companies from Germany came up with. The name of the company is Rudolf Hensel. A local paint company has entered into some arrangements through which they will be marketing this paint in Pakistan. This appears to be an awesome idea, as the paint may either stop the fire from spreading, or/and, it may give enough time for the people to vacate the building, so the lives may be saved. And that is what makes Rudolf Hensel’s fire retardant coatings awesome as it may reduce the loss of lives and property to fire.

If we could make using such coatings, created using the cutting-edge technology and manufacturing processes, a standard in Pakistan – if we could incorporate its usage into our building laws, we could potentially curtail “the fire problem” to a great degree. If wood, steel, electrical wires, concrete structures could all be treated with Hensel’s  or similar fire retardant coating, the flammable surfaces in buildings could be greatly reduced. And this is incredibly important, because during fire emergencies, it’s rarely the fire itself that kills individuals – it’s the smoke inhalation. I think it’s fairly easy to see how restricting what and how much, could potentially burn in a room, could decrease how much smoke a potential fire emergency victim could inhale. What we need, is for authorities to make it a requirement to coat as many flammable surfaces as possible, in fire retardant material, before structures are allowed to be occupied.

The importance of pre-emptive, precautionary measures cannot possibly be over-emphasized. And that’s true for any given situation. Thinking ahead can quite literally be what saves you. Coating building interiors and exteriors – flammable surfaces – with fire retardant material, is thinking ahead. It’s identifying a potential problem, finding an effective solution, and implementing it, not just for physical security, but also for peace of mind – especially if you live or work on the 15th floor of a high rise! Or even if you’re on the 4th floor but have terrible stamina because you haven’t been to the gym in months, and can’t run down the stairs in time!

Other thing of importance is that we need to create awareness among people. Now, that all kinds of communication methods are available today, we should run campaigns which cause awareness not only among our children but also our adults, as how to prevent fires in our buildings in the first place. We need to disseminate the knowledge that it is not an act of God in all cases, but may also be caused by human negligence or stupidity. We need to introduce a liberal use of fire safety devices as well as fire alarms which should be necessary in every edifice, residential or otherwise. Now that fire safety codes have been approved at the national level, they should be followed / implemented religiously.

An incident is worth narration. Recently, while visiting a government building in Islamabad, I noticed that it was properly equipped with fire alarms. On a hunch, I just decided to check one of these fire / smoke alarms. So, I got on a chair and unscrewed one of the fire alarm. It was not even connected to the cable which was hanging behind the body of the fire alarm. If the fire alarm was no properly connected or empowered, how can it be expected to provide the necessary signal in case of a fire. Now, we need to remember that lives are lost mostly not to the fire but the smoke which spreads in the buildings, even when it is not visually noticed. The building was equipped with fire / smoke alarms as designed, but nobody had bothered to even check if these fire alarms on which lives depended were even functional. Thus, it is important that the buildings should be checked  if the fire safety systems are operational. This should be included in the tasks of the administration to ensure the fire safety related equipment is functional.

Another aspect of the fire safety management is the holding of fire drills. These are important and should not be ignored. As time goes by, we are forced to work and live in high rise buildings, due to shortage of land and or living trends. This leads to another hazard. At the time of fire, the elevators often are not in working condition. What is to be done then? How are people to evacuate, say in middle of the day or night, when everybody may either be working hard on something or may be sound asleep. People working or living in these buildings should be fully aware of steps that need to be taken in case of fire. Regular fire drills should be held in the buildings/ offices and in commercial buildings, so that people are aware of how to evacuate the building and steps that need to be taken in case there is an incident of fire. These fire drills are important and they should never be viewed as a waste of time. Summing it all, we should all realize that fire is not a laughing matter and should not be taken lightly. In interest of saving lives and property we should equip ourselves to combat fire as best as we can.

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