There are a number of takeaways from the Downtown Dubai 35-storey high-rise fire earlier this week.
First, the emergency services deserve great praise for tackling the situation so quickly and effectively. They prove their humanity and professionalism time and again in potentially life-threatening scenarios. We are fortunate to have them around.
Authorities told media that they were alerted to the 8 Boulevard Walk tower fire just after 3am on November 7 and that fire and rescue crews had arrived at the scene within five minutes of the alarm being sounded.
The blaze was brought under control within two hours – the official time was recorded at 4.52am – and the operation was declared finished just after 6am when the site was handed over to other agencies.
Dubai Civil Defence confirmed shortly after the fire broke out that all of the tower’s residents had been moved to safety and that there were no injuries or casualties. Eye witnesses told The National that rescue teams were at the scene “very quickly and everyone managed to get out".
Secondly, as with any incident of this nature, the tower’s displaced residents will need ongoing support given the lasting impact of these events. Water and smoke damage has been reported in the building.
One short-term resident of the tower told our reporters that “everything I have is inside the apartment. All I have [now] is the clothes I am wearing".
Another resident told The National that she left the high-rise with almost nothing, “just my wallet and medication”. She said she was in tears by the time she was safely outside the building.
It is impossible to miss the complex range of emotions evident in those testimonies.
Anyone who has been involved with an event of this nature will know that the incident itself is only one point in time, and that recovery from such a situation is also about what happens today, tomorrow and the day after. I know this from personal experience.
My father died in a house fire many years ago in the UK, which is something that I am compelled to think about whenever an incident like the Downtown Dubai fire happens.
I’ve written before on the subject in these pages and what I said then is also true now: these events never leave you, only that the scars get progressively less noticeable and you learn to be proud of them in time.
In my own story, the clear-up and restoration of the house after the fire took more than a year. Personal recovery was not always as linear.
There were times in that period when I was consumed by a mix of anger, fear and denial, such was the confluence of circumstances that involved the loss of a parent and the home I had grown up in.
Many decisions that required clear thinking had to be taken when minds were fogged with grief and loss. Some of the agencies we dealt with after the fire were incredibly helpful and intuitive, others were awful, adding salt to our already open wounds. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my family to keep me moving forwards.
I also know that what I wanted in those first few months of recovery was practical help rather than pity. To this day, I still don’t want anyone’s pity. My memories of my father and the home I grew up in are not defined by the fire or by anyone but me.
For those now tasked with looking after the Downtown Dubai fire scene, they will be required to show dignity and respect when interacting with those affected by the incident. These are emotionally charged and life-defining moments.
This event also made me think once again about home insurance.
The added layer of complication in situations like this is that there may be some tower residents who are uninsured. Data has previously shown that a low percentage of UAE residents have contents insurance cover in place in this country. Such policies typically provide some cover for the cost of alternative accommodation while the insured property is being refurbished, as well as for the loss of damaged items.
Given the historic low uptake for such policies and the devastating impact that fire or flood can have upon personal circumstances, I’d argue for the introduction of affordable and compulsory cover.
The UAE will introduce its nationwide unemployment insurance scheme at the beginning of next year, providing up to Dh60,000 of loss of income cover for a payment of Dh120 a year, collected in 12 equal monthly payments. It’s easy to imagine basic and mandatory home insurance cover using a similar template and price point.
It could be levied and collected in a similar method to the municipality charges via the Tawtheeq tenancy contract registration system or at the point of purchase of a property, with recurring fees collected automatically through utility bills.
Finally, preparedness was one of the other contributory factors to this week’s blaze passing off without casualty. Fire drills were regularly held at the tower, according to residents, which undoubtedly helped prevent loss of life this week.
Now, effective post-crisis management should rise to the fore.