Importance of fire safety | Daily News

Importance of fire safety

Fire is one of man’s most important discoveries, yet it is also one of the most dangerous. Sayings such as “you are playing with fire” illustrate the dangers associated with fire. It can raze solid structures to the ground in a matter of hours and snuff out precious lives in a matter of minutes.

We pen these lines in the aftermath of the truly horrific fire at a popular clothing store in Pelawatte, which virtually paralyzed the area for the better part of the day on Thursday. The fire was so big that even an Air Force Bell 212 helicopter equipped with the bambi bucket had to be pressed into service. The only silver lining in the black smoke, so to speak, was the lack of any injuries to shop workers or consumers. Also, adjoining shops escaped with little or no damage. But sometimes fires can be really devastating – one example was the destruction of the Grenfell Tower in London last year with the loss of 80 lives.

We do not know the cause of the Pelawatte blaze yet – that is a job for the Police and fire investigators. But we do know how and why fires start in some buildings. The primary cause for the generation and spread of fire in buildings is bad design headlined by cost cutting. No building can be completely fireproof, but there are fundamental precautions that should be taken from the initial design stage itself.

First, there should be adequate ventilation and fire exits in any building. We have seen many buildings that can house hundreds but which have only one major exit. This can be extremely dangerous in an inferno. Moreover, there should be clear signposting on fire exits and emergency exit routes in every building. Fire resistant and retardant material must be used wherever and whenever possible in construction.

There should also be enough smoke detectors, water sprinklers, fire hydrants and water hoses that can contain a fire. Fire extinguishers are a must for every building, though we have seen many buildings which do not have them. Electricity leakages are another leading cause of fires. There should be a periodic inspection of the electricity wiring and connections at least once every six months in every building, regardless of its age. Arson – setting fire to a structure deliberately - can sometimes be a factor. Though it cannot be called arson, sometimes even a carelessly thrown cigarette butt can start a fire (there should be a strict no-smoking policy in high rise environments). It is also possible for LPG leakage to lead to a fire.

The leading cause of injury and death in a fire is often not burning per se – it is smoke inhalation, which sometimes immobilizes even physically fit victims who can otherwise find their way out. In many infernos, victims are also trapped inside by badly designed buildings that provide no easy exits until they are consumed by smoke and fire. The design of some buildings often makes it difficult for fire crews to reach certain areas to rescue victims. Fire safety is a must for any building, big or small. Every building, especially those coming up anew, must have the latest fire safety technologies and ample access for the exit of tenants and entry of fire crews.

In the light of the construction boom involving high rise condominiums sweeping Sri Lanka, the authorities must examine these structures and impose tougher conditions if they have failed to meet the minimum fire safety requirements required under Sri Lankan law. If our laws are not adequate at present to deal with these problems, new laws must be passed.

In most countries, it is obligatory for the owner to state how many persons can be accommodated in their building at any given time. This is essential, because any number exceeding the set limit will pose a massive danger to all in the event of a sudden evacuation. It is also essential for every city in Sri Lanka to have a 24/7 state-of-the-art firefighting fleet with advanced vehicles manned by qualified and trained professionals. There are new technologies such as fire dousing drones, the latest front in fighting high-rise fires and wildfires. Constant monitoring is the key to containing wildfires, which sometimes occur in Sri Lanka.

No matter how many latest technologies are used, there is a chance that fire could win. It is a never ending fight with a major force of nature that has the power to destroy everything in its path. Our best defence against fire is constant vigilance and the use of materials that could prevent it in the first place. It is also worth having knowledge of exactly what you should do if a fire erupts – this is why it is important for residential towers, malls and offices to conduct fire drills regularly. This way, residents and tenants have a greater chance of emerging alive when an actual fire strikes. No corners should be cut when it comes to fire prevention and safety. After all, one cannot measure precious lives in terms of money.


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