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What are the reasons behind frequent fire incidents in Dhaka?

  • Published at 05:32 pm March 28th, 2019
Firefighters working to douse the fire at FR Tower in Dhaka's Banani on Thursday, March 28, 2019 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The number of fires has increased more than threefold across Bangladesh since 1997; with the year 2018 seeing a daily average of 53

Experts and officials concerned have said that negligence in ensuring fire safety measures and rampant breach of the existing building law and code are increasing fire incidents in Dhaka city. 

They also blamed slack monitoring by the officials concerned regarding fire protection and irregularities in clearing multi-storey building projects that lack proper or minimum fire safety standards, for the situation.  

According to them, the fire service also needs to increase the capacity of its manpower and logistic support, to help ward off any worse situation.  

The experts and officials made the comments following Thursday’s fire at a 22-storey Banani building that snuffed out at least 19 lives.

Mazharul Islam, joint general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), said such fire hazards are resulted from whimsical construction of buildings under the very nose of the authorities concerned.

Also Read- Banani fire death toll 25

“The landlords and realtors mindlessly violate the existing building code or laws. Little do they care about fire safety of others,” he said.

Claiming himself to be a witness to the Banani fire, Mazharul said the first vehicle reached near the building affected very quickly, but the firefighters were in a fix regarding what to do right away.

“When the locals started venting their anger on the firemen, the latter began the rescue operation,” he said.

“Still it took nearly four hours to douse the blaze; that too with the help of military personnel,” the BIP leader said. 

The fire broke out at FR Tower around 12:52pm and was brought under control by 4:45pm. Firefighters primarily suspected the fire could have originated from the seventh floor and later spread to the other ones.

Also Read- FR Tower fire: Why the rescue operation faced interruptions

Citing the height factor, Mazharul said: “What would have happened if the fire ignited on the 20th floor or above?

“It is high time our fire service must boost its capacity by incorporating new technologies,” he opined.

Similar observations were made by Md Ashraful Islam, project director of the capital city's revised Detailed Area Plan (DAP), who said fire originate through many ways.

“But substandard fire safety equipment can be also a major reason for such fire disasters,” he said. 

Talking of building code, he said a proper facility must have an emergency exit, alongside the regular gate.

Also Read- 16,000 fire incidents in 10 years

“Most of the buildings does not have an emergency exit. Even the lion’s share of the existing emergency exits are dysfunctional,” he said.

Majharul, who works under the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), the capital city’s housing and development regulator, however, said the organization itself has no data on such flawed buildings.   

Suggesting that the fire brigade will undergo a capacity uplift soon, he said area-wise fire hydrants have to be installed, especially by the roads in an industrial, commercial or residential zone. 

After the February 20 Chawkbazar fire tragedy that killed 71 people, Major AKM Shakil Newaz, Director (operation and maintenance) Fire Service and Civil Defence said they are capable of extinguishing fire up to the 20th floor. 

Also Read- Fire strikes Old Dhaka again: 67 killed in Chawkbazar inferno

When asked about capacity building of fire service, Md Shahiduzzaman, secretary of the Security Services Division under Home Ministry, said he recently joined the division, and was not ready to comment on the matter instantly.

Meanwhile, several top officials including Major Shakil were unavailable for comments over the issue. 

Ever since the Chawkbazar tragedy, Dhaka city saw at least five fire incidents, including three in slums. 

The number of fires has increased more than threefold across Bangladesh since 1997; with the year 2018 seeing a daily average of 53.

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