DUBAI // Residents of apartment towers are calling on managers to better prepare them and the buildings for fire emergencies.
They want regular inspections of safety equipment, regular drills, and to be instructed on the locations of assembly points.
The call comes after hundreds fled a small fire that broke out on the 76-storey Al Sulafa Tower in Dubai Marina last weekend.
Residents of more than 700 flats were awakened about 5.45am by alarms after a fire broke out in an apartment on the 36th floor. "Building owners should tell the security what to do so they can educate us," said Zada Haffi, a German national who lives on the 52nd floor of the high rise.
"The fire alarms go off all the time and we couldn't distinguish if it was real or fake. We didn't hear the announcements. When we looked out of our window and saw smoke, we knew it was real."
Mrs Haffi has been advised to use crutches after the run down the stairwell gave her severe spasms.
She said alarms should be accompanied by clear announcements telling residents where the fire was so they would know whether to run to the roof or the lobby.
Similar concerns have been voiced in other parts of the UAE.
Sharjah has had two huge residential tower fires this year. The Al Tayer blaze in April displaced more than 100 families from 408 apartments.
Divya Jayesh, a former resident of the gutted 40-storey high-rise, said the fire alarms used to be so frequent that tenants hardly took notice of them.
"You have an alarm almost every day, and when you move out there is nothing," she said, adding there had been several breaches of fire safety rules in the building, including ineffective extinguishers.
It was a different experience for Mohamoud Ibrahim, who used to live in Sharjah's Al Baker Tower 4, which burnt down in January. Mr Ibrahim said the alarm system had failed to alert residents.
"The fire started at 2am but at 3am I was still comfortably sleeping in my apartment on the 20th floor," he said. "The building owners had not done the regular maintenance work and the fire-safety system was almost down when the accident struck."
More than 125 families were displaced in that fire.
A resident of the Art 4 building in Tecom, which caught fire in May last year, said the tower still lacked an adequate safety system.
"The fire alarms go off randomly and they say it's faulty," said Nicol Ferreira, whose 80-year-old grandmother was rescued by the building's security guard. He carried the dizzy woman on his shoulders from their fifth-floor apartment.
"A month ago the fire alarm went off and no one was seen. A car washer in the building went to switch off the alarm. We all just ran down. No one really knows where to go in case of a fire. There are no assembly points."
Ms Ferreira has lived in the 13-storey tower for two years and now plans to move out. She said all of the flats had small fire extinguishers, but she had never seen the management check them.
"It's in the kitchen. I don't even know if it works," she said.
Building managers said flat tenants and owners also had a responsibility.
"Some people are careless," said Yousef Yaqoob, manager for Al Sulafa Tower.
"They smoke and throw cigarettes from their flats on to cars and others' balconies. This is a major issue."
A lit cigarette is believed to have caused a second fire last week in the building's garbage room, while items stored on the balcony are thought to have contributed to the June 8 blaze on the 36th floor.
"Balconies are for people to sit and read, but many are misusing balconies and storing newspapers in them," Mr Yaqoob said. "The weather doesn't help, either."
After the two accidents, management sent notices to residents urging them not to store anything on balconies or in corridors, and not to throw cigarettes from balconies.
Dubai Civil Defence says smoking accounts for 25 per cent of fires in the emirate.
A resident at the 45-storey Lake Point Tower in Jumeirah Lake Towers said he planned to take up fire-safety issues with management.
"There is no assembly point," said the flat owner, who asked not to be named.
"There have been no drills and there is no access to the roof."