Some 80 per cent of the high-rises run the grave risk of falling prey to fire hazards, experts said yesterday as Thursday’s deadly blaze at FR Tower has once again brought to the fore the issue of appropriate fire safety in the increasing number of high-rises in the capital. In the absence of proper monitoring, in particular, most of the commercial structures and the high-rise shopping malls—which have sprung up at various corners of the capital, accommodating over 17 million people—lack adequate fire safety measures, thereby imperilling the lives of many, they added.
Prof. Dr Mehedi Ahmed Ansari of the Civil Engineering Department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), who is also the director of the Bangladesh Network Office for Urban Safety (BNUS) of BUET, told The Independent that aside from some of the new LEEDS-certified high-rise buildings, most commercial buildings in the capital have not bothered to install proper fire safety equipment.
According to the Fire Prevention and Dousing Act, 2003, and the amended Building Construction Act, 1952, all high-rise buildings should have their own fire security measures and fire escapes. The owners are also supposed to conduct fire drills at regular intervals.
But Dr Ansari said even in those high-rises constructed in accordance with proper fire safety measures, fire safety drills are barely practised. This is a reason why fires have occurred at places like FR Tower.
He said, “The air-conditioned markets are the most vulnerable as these mostly keep the entire exits closed but don’t maintain enough escape routes. Although the situation in the newly constructed markets is comparatively better, there are some markets which don’t even have any stairways to access the food courts at the top. This could turn out to be deadly,” Prof. Ansari warned.
In August 2016, after a fire broke out at Bashundhara City shopping mall, the Fire Services and Civil Defence (FSCD) started conducting ongoing field-level inspections at several multi-storeyed markets.
Before the Bashundhara fire, at least seven people died at an Uttara shopping mall lift crash and fire on June 24. Another such incident on June 29 left almost all the shops in a high-rise market-cum-residential building at Uttar Badda badly damaged with cracks.
The members of FSCD had visited some 100 multi-storeyed commercial buildings and shopping malls in the capital and found that they were not compliant with fire safety requirements. They found that the commercial high-rises did not have automated fire signalling and alarm systems or heat and smoke detectors with sprinklers. Many shopping malls even lack safety lobby and exit signs with lights.
The amended Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) made two stairs mandatory for a commercial building accommodating 50 to 500 people, three stairs for 500 to 1,000 and four stairs for
buildings with 1,000 inhabitants. Incidentally, they found out that those provisions were not met in most of the cases.
According to the Fire Protection Act, 2003, every floor of a high-rise shopping mall with footfalls of more than 1,000 people should have at least two fire extinguishers, a hydrant point, a water reservoir and a tank on the top, which should always contain a certain amount of water.
Apart from the necessary equipment, the markets should have their own fire-fighting teams and conduct drills on a regular basis. They should have their own trained fire-fighting units to respond quickly when fire breaks out and exercise regular drills in accordance with the instructions of the fire service department.
The FSCD team found that almost none of the shopping malls comply with these rules.
According to Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), there are more than 150 multi-storeyed shopping and shopping-cum-commercial complexes in the city.
Fire service sources said 30 per cent of these malls have caught fire in the last five years.
RAJUK member (development) Sayeed Noor Alam, however, said they merely oversee the design of building construction and the engineer in charge of a building was responsible for its fire-fighting arrangements, electromechanical system, lifts and water system.
After a building is constructed, RAJUK only checks to see whether there is any deviation from the planned structure, he said.
He added that the RAJUK Act did not empower them to oversee the fire-fighting arrangements, electromechanical system, lifts and water system.
“The Act needs to be amended in order to empower RAJUK to oversee these issues.”