On Tuesday, residents of Al Aneeqa Tower in Sharjah spent the night in cars and hotels after a fire in their building. Tenants blamed the damage to their property first on the blaze, but also on the delayed arrival of Civil Defence teams, faulty equipment and a shoddy alarm system.
For the residents at Al Aneeqa this was no doubt a week to forget. Slow response times and poor safety gear conspired to allow a preventable fire to grow out of control. But for the rest of us, Al Aneeqa must be a fire to learn from.
Even some of the most modern dwellings in the country still suffer from a lack of fire preparedness. Last month hundreds of families, and NYU Abu Dhabi students and staff, were forced to evacuate Sama Tower in the capital after an electrical fire. Residents on top floors later said they were never given the evacuation order, while others heard the alarm more than an hour after it first sounded. Some were even forced to escape through smoke-filled stairways, raising serious questions about fire doors and other safety measures.
Fires are a fact of urban living; no matter how hard authorities work blazes will continue to take lives and consume property. But the risks can be reduced though better building codes, capable rescue operations and a savvy public. On all of these counts the UAE can do better.
For the Government, inspection campaigns and new, enforceable fire codes are one way to ensure residential dwellings are up to standard. In recent years the risk of fire has been higher in older buildings, while newer one have been required to comply with safety standards before authorities issue a certificate of completion. But as the fire at Sama shows, the work is unfinished.
Yet authorities can only do so much. Building owners also have a responsibility not to cut corners, keep fire doors and stairwells free of clutter, frequently test alarm systems, and take other measures.
In the end, though, safety is everyone's responsibility. The fact that many residents seem not to be taking the issue of fire safety seriously remains the more insidious challenge. When was the last time you checked your fire extinguisher, for example? Do you even have one?
Now might be a good time to go check.