ABU DHABI // In the coming months, fire experts will visit every home in the country, inspect for fire hazards, warn families of danger, and show them how to escape a blaze faster.
From today, 217 officers will begin the process of educating the community about issues ranging from where laptops should be placed, to what to do if a saucepan catches fire.
In an effort to cut the number of deaths from house fires, Civil Defence chiefs have also drawn up the country's first nationwide fire safety code.
Until now, according to Major Gen Rashid al Matrooshi, the acting director of the Civil Defence, each emirate has used its own code.
"Some were based on the British model, some on the American," he said.
The result, made plain in figures released yesterday, is a wide gap between emirates. Last year, Dubai had just 42 house fires, while both Abu Dhabi city (89) and Sharjah (100) had more than twice as many.
Nationwide, house fires accounted for 12 per cent of all fires. But that, too, showed big differences.
In Dubai, house fires were fewer than 10 per cent of the total, while in Ras al Khaimah, they accounted for more than a third.
Having drawn up the new code, the task now is to ensure it is applied consistently. That began yesterday, in a meeting with the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipal Affairs.
"During this week, we will be going over the code with them, and we should start applying it when we are done," Major Gen al Matrooshi said.
"People spend most of their time at home, and our core business is to protect lives," he said. "So our focus is to reduce home fire casualties in addition to economic losses that result."
He said the order for the campaign came from the top, after Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, becoming concerned about two accidents last year that claimed the lives of seven people.
One of the accidents, in Sharjah on the last day of Ramadan, caused the death of a 60-year old woman and three children.
"They died from suffocation and not from burns," said Maj Gen al Matrooshi, noting that suffocation was the cause of 85 per cent of fire deaths.
Speed of response had also been a problem, he said.
"During investigations, the maid told us that the fire started at 8.30pm, although it was not reported until 9.05. Any minute of delay in us reaching the victim could lead to death," he said.
Families should know what to do in case of a fire and how to escape, he said, and be able to report a fire quickly and efficiently.
Inspection teams will give out fire safety information, including a guide to tent safety.
“Almost every local house sets a tent at some point,” said Maj Gen al Matrooshi.
“In order to convince people to change, we need to be nice and close to them. Inspectors are instructed to smile at the families and be extremely polite and ask their permission to enter.
“If a person refuses to greet the officers in his house, he has the freedom to do so, but we hope that with the media campaign, families will be aware of the benefits of the visits and co-operate.”
After each visit, the teams will file a report on the house, and write to the owner about any necessary fixes.
Owners whose houses fall short will not be fined, for now. The inspectors will, however, report illegal housing – such as unlicensed, subdivided villas – where they see it.
A progress report will be released after each of the six months of the campaign. Once the campaign is over, fire data will be analysed to see what difference it has made.