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Tip of a fireberg
Son Nguyen
Friday,  Mar 30, 2018,19:19 (GMT+7)

Tip of a fireberg

Son Nguyen

The tragic fire at the Carina Plaza condo complex in HCMC’s District 8 last week that killed 14 people took the spotlight at the March press conference organized by the HCMC government on March 29, not only because of multiple irregularities at the building related to fire safety. Rather, it is because the fire sets off the alarming bell in the entire society, as fire prevention and fighting solutions at numerous high-rise buildings in HCMC as well as the entire country are a matter of grave concern.

At the press meeting on March 29, scary details were given over the fatal fire at the Carina Plaza. Nguyen Van Bang, deputy director of the HCMC fire brigade, bluntly said that the fire warning system did not work, while the emergency exits were neutralized, according to news website Vnexpress. Bang told some 100 assembled reporters that since 2012 when the condo building was put into use, fire-fighting authorities had launched 22 checks into the fire prevention systems of Carina Plaza, and pinpointed numerous problems. “Most recently in December 2017, fire-fighting police found that two water pumps did not work,” Bang is quoted as saying.

In specifics, Cong An Online says fire-fighting police discovered that the automatic fire warning systems of the buildings were dead, sprinklers and hydrants were dry, and the water pumps were out of order. The building management has been repeatedly warned of the flaws, all to no avail, according to the online media.

Worse still, Tuoi Tre says the Carina Plaza management borrowed fire-fighting equipment from elsewhere for temporary installment to deceive fire-fighting authorities before inspections, and returned the equipment after that.

The biggest and most-frightening headache for residents and the entire society as well is that such fire prevention irregularities are awash not only at the Carina Plaza, but at scores – if not hundreds – of such high-rise apartment buildings, and not only in HCMC but elsewhere in the country.

Lately, Hanoi City has black-listed as many as 17 high-rise condo buildings where fire prevention and fighting equipment and facilities are inadequate, according to news site Infonet. Certain flaws at such buildings, according to the news site, are irremediable.

Also according to the news site, a report by Hanoi City government at a meeting of the municipal People’s Council in December showed that as of end-October, the capital city saw 626 fires, with 18 people killed. At this People’s Council meeting, authorities gave a long list of 79 high-rise condo buildings – or 10% of the total – with violations of fire prevention rules, and to date, 59 of them have yet to make needed repairs.

To address the fire safety issue at the 17 high-rise condo buildings which were described by Tuoi Tre as “irremediable,” Hanoi City has proposed the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Public Security to allow for provisional solutions, including building steel staircases attached to such condo buildings from outside, supplying mobile water pumps and installing additional sprinkler systems.

In the aftermath of the Carina Plaza fire, authorities in HCMC have also rushed to intensify inspections of condo buildings.

Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of District 1, has over the past few days led an inspection team to apartment buildings in the district to check fire safety issues. At a condo building at 14 Nguyen Thi Nghia Street, inspectors found that there was no emergency staircase, a fault also found at another condo building at 42 Nguyen Hue Boulevard, Thanh Nien reports.

Meanwhile, Tuoi Tre says several condo buildings on Bui Vien and Nguyen Hue streets are highly vulnerable to fires, as witnessed by inspectors. Electric wiring systems are hung on the wall like cobwebs, staircases for emergency exit do not exist or are blocked, or even used as a parking lot, which will put residents in danger if a fire breaks out, says the newspaper.

At the aforesaid press conference on March 29, Vo Van Hoan, office manager of the HCMC People’s Committee, said competent agencies of the city will soon launch wide-ranging inspections of all condo buildings, with specific criteria on fire safety. Those failing such criteria will have their names publicized, Hoan says on Vnexpress.net.

Elsewhere in the city, authorities of Hiep Binh Chanh Ward in Thu Duc District on Wednesday urged residents at a condo building to remove self-erected structures and roofing that encroached on public spaces and impeded emergency exits, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. The newspaper also mentions a high-rise condo building named Tay Nguyen in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho where the fire warning system has been paralyzed for long. Colonel Vu Van Tao, deputy director of the Can Tho City Fire-fighting Department, explains that his agency has found that the fire warning and prevention system at the condo building were damaged, and has urged the investor to repair it, which has still been ignored.

Most recently, the Ministry of Construction has also ordered the provincial Departments of Construction to launch inspections into all high-rise buildings within their precincts, and take tough measures to ensure that such building operators comply strictly with fire fighting and prevention regulations.

The fatal fire at Carina Plaza has thus triggered widespread reactions from authorities nationwide, especially in Hanoi and HCMC where fire safety problems have remained. And such problems have persisted for long years, without proper attention on the part of both authorities and building operators.

As the picture is unveiled to be highly scary, it is high time to apply stringent requirements regarding fire safety and enforce the highest possible compliance, if tragedies like the fire at Carina Plaza are not to be repeated. Provisional solutions, as those proposed by Hanoi City, should be weighed with utmost prudence, for people’s safety.

As stated in the Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” fatal fires at high-rise buildings will come sooner or later, if safety standards are not strictly adhered to. Sadly enough, fire safety at numerous high-rise buildings, say local newspapers, is a big question that has remained unanswered for long, and the fire at Carina Plaza is just the small tip of a colossal iceberg that needs to be unearthed.

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