Witnesses and relatives of victims of the karaoke bar blaze early this month in Hanoi will never forget the time when their loved ones were stuck in a massive fire. The accident, while leaving terrifying consequences to many people, raises a big concern over fire safety in Vietnam where people’s awareness remains poor.
As reported by local media, the blaze broke out at a karaoke bar at lunchtime on November 1 and soon engulfed the building and next-door houses, taking hundreds of firefighters more than six hours to put out. As many as 13 people were killed inside the building, in which 11 were government employees from the nearby political training academy. The fire also damaged four neighboring buildings in Cau Giay District and many motorcycles.
The tragedy has quickly sent ripples of fear among the public because this is not the first such tragedy. The number of fire accidents at karaoke bars, which are popular among people at all ages, actually has been alarming. It also sends an alarm bell to relevant agencies and authorities in Vietnam because their fire prevention and fighting capability is still limited.
According to Major General Doan Viet Manh from the Ministry of Public Security’s Fire and Rescue Police Department (C66), the department has urgently sent a notice to police and fire prevention departments in centrally-run cities and provinces nationwide, warning of insecurity and high risk at entertainment venues across the country.
Since the beginning of 2016, as many as 23 fires have been reported at karaoke bars nationwide, causing losses of VND9.5 trillion. In Hanoi alone, six fires have been reported. In September, another Cau Giay District karaoke lounge was engulfed in an inferno, fortunately without any casualties.
C66 has requested police and fire prevention forces to inspect the observance of fire prevention regulations at all entertainment sites, especially karaoke lounges, dance halls, bars, and restaurants. Any violations must be strictly handled. Furthermore, it is necessary to raise public awareness of fire prevention measures and survival skills.
Hanoi City’s fire department has announced to conduct safety checks on all 1,204 karaoke bars in the capital city to see whether there are any inadequacies and shortcomings in fire prevention. All karaoke venues in Cau Giay District have been closed for inspection.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has also asked authorities in major cities nationwide to urgently carry out fire inspections at public places, focusing on karaoke lounges, nightclubs and restaurants. To prevent further casualties, authorities of Hanoi are considering suspending the operations of all karaoke bars till the end of this year.
In the meantime, relevant authorities are going to investigate all karaoke bars to see whether room size, lighting and emergency exits meet standards. Besides, big billboards will be taken down. Billboards have to meet some size regulations and should not cover the whole façade of the bar, Hanoi City’s Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung is quoted by Dan Tri newspaper as saying.
The Hanoi Police Department has formally filed criminal charges against violations of regulations on fire prevention and fight at the above-mentioned karaoke bar in Hanoi. An investigation by the Hanoi police on Wednesday found that a 23-year-old welder was careless while fixing a large billboard in front of the bar. Dry weather and strong winds ignited a fire. However, this is not the only cause of the fire.
Chairman of Cau Giay District People’s Committee Duong Cao Thanh says that the owner of the karaoke bar did not have the required documents to operate the bar, including a fire prevention evaluation certificate and a karaoke bar permit.
District authorities had conducted three inspections into the bar in October alone, each time requesting the bar to cease operation until such requirements had been met.
Bui Quang Viet, deputy head of the Ministry of Public Security’s fire prevention department, says karaoke bars are more susceptible to fires than other establishments because their big billboards block escape routes through windows and balconies. Also, to soundproof these bars, a lot of foam, rubber and sponge, all highly flammable, are used. In case of a fire, it would spread rapidly and the smoke would quickly suffocate the people inside.
Nguyen Duy Xuan, a reader of Tuoi Tre newspaper, expresses concern when orders from law enforcement agencies were ignored. The karaoke bar owner had neither a fire safety certificate nor a business operation license. The owner had also repeatedly ignored demands from authorities to cease the karaoke service.
In many cases, businesses put profits ahead of the safety of their customers. Most of them try to spend as little money as possible on fire prevention measures and fire-fighting equipment. In this case, the bar owner has made light of the law and now has to pay a dear price.
Local authorities and related forces must also hold responsibility for allowing the karaoke bar to open. Obviously, there are many loopholes in management.
“Local police have vowed to strengthen inspection after the heart-breaking accident. Things cannot change overnight but better late than never. The accident is really a wake-up call. All people in any circumstance should respect the law so that no more tragic fire accidents like this would happen in the future,” the reader says.