Tower blaze is a call to look at fire safety

The recent incident in Sharjah underscores the need to review our preparedness

The charred exterior of the Abdul Naser building in King Faisal Road in Sharjah on October 2, 2015. Sarah Dea / The National
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While the absence of any reported injuries, let alone deaths, in the Sharjah tower fire has to be welcomed, details that have emerged about the incident make it clear that the outcome could have been much worse. Thursday's fire in the 32-storey Abdul Naser building on King Faisal Road shows that there are no grounds for complacency.

Of great concern is that many residents said they were unaware of the fire until they smelled smoke and saw flames. Others had to be alerted by those in neighbouring buildings and some people did not realise there was a problem until emergency services staff knocked on their doors. Also of concern are accounts that some people used the lifts to evacuate, while those who used the stairs were trampled by others, and that some people stopped to take their valuables with them before fleeing.

Strict fire-safety codes are in place across the country. However, there would seem to be grounds to ask whether all building owners are applying those regulations correctly and whether improvements can be made. Concerns that the type of cladding used on the Sharjah building might have contributed to the scale of the fire also deserve some attention.

As a number of tragedies in recent years have shown, improving fire safety requires a multi-disciplined approach, involving residents, the building owners and the authorities responsible for setting the rules and ensuring they are followed. Given the large number of people living in high-rise towers, fire safety rules need to meet or exceed world standards.

These include ensuring basic safety initiatives such as having smoke detectors and fire alarms to provide early warning. Other factors include holding regular fire drills and awareness campaigns so that people know what to do if a blaze occurs. Residents ought to know ­basic rules, such as not taking personal belongings or using lifts if there is a fire.

Apart from the absence of injuries, another blessing is that the families displaced by the blaze have been given temporary housing through the support of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region and president of Emirates Red Crescent. But this incident should still serve as a reminder to everyone to ensure that their own building is fully prepared so this kind of incident doesn’t end in a tragic loss of life.