Being prepared for fire will save lives in the UAE

Fire disasters cannot be prevented, but adequate precautions can help us to mitigate the damage, as well as reduce the frequency of blazes.

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Scores of people die or sustain injuries in tall building fires in the UAE each year. All of these accidents are tragic. Most of them are preventable.

As The National reported yesterday, two people died when a fire ripped through an apartment building on Electra Street in Abu Dhabi. While the cause of the blaze is not yet known, the age of the building and the history of past fires suggests a combination of poor planning and possible negligence.

To be sure the Electra Street fire could have been far worse. Swift action by the capital's Civil Defence teams kept the fire from spreading. The building was rapidly evacuated, and the nearby NMC hospital showed alertness by putting its emergency plan into action soon after it was alerted to the blaze. Ready to accept incoming patients, the hospital's mobilisation efforts probably helped save lives.

But this incident - and another that took place in the Tourist Club area of the capital on the same day and killed one person - should serve as a timely reminder of the dangers that fire brings, especially during these hotter months. It is no coincidence that a majority of these disasters happen when electrical circuits - which are often substandard and poorly maintained - are overburdened by air conditioning, and as people spend long hours inside to avoid the heat.

These are contributors to fire, but other problems compound the impact, such as the continued use of poor-quality materials. Combustible cladding that ignites easily and is hard to extinguish, for instance, is still being used indiscriminately.

Disasters do happen. According to the ministry of interior, dozens were killed in thousands of fire incidents across the country in the first six months of last year alone. Most of those tragedies were attributed to a failure to observe safety regulations in buildings.

Adequate precautions can help us to mitigate the damage, as well as reduce the frequency of fires. Proper planning - by first responders, hospital staff and those living in tall buildings - can save lives.

Safety is everyone's responsibility. While it is important to step up building inspections and enforce safety regulations more strictly, residents need to ensure that they take adequate precautions for any eventuality. Where are the stairs? Do you have an operating fire extinguisher? What number will you call in the event of a fire in your flat?

There is no better safety alternative than precaution.