x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Inspections are just the start for fire prevention

The nation's civil defence officials are orchestrating a major undertaking to educate every resident in proper fire prevention.

Garbage crammed into an air shaft ignited a residential fire in Fujairah earlier this fall. Faulty gas lines were the likely cause of a blaze in Sharjah in July.

Each of these fires was devastating in its own right. And each was preventable, a point UAE officials hope to drive home with an ambitious new fire safety programme launched this week.

As we reported yesterday, the nation's civil defence officials are orchestrating a major undertaking to educate every resident in proper fire prevention. By mid-year 2011, the plan is that every flat, villa and tent will have been visited by a government inspector, clipboard in hand.

The aim, says Maj Gen Rasid al Matrooshi, the acting civil defence director, "is to reduce home fire casualties in addition to economic losses that result". That ambition should be achievable given that house fires are the most common type of blaze in the UAE, and that most are the result of a narrow set of preventable problems - such as faulty electrical devices and poor construction.

But an ambitious inspection regimen is only the beginning. Not only do officials need to follow through in the field, they must enforce the building standards and fire codes that have undergone recent overhauls. Just a casual stroll down the street in some neighbourhoods reveals a litany of safety violations, fire related and otherwise.

A shortage of inspectors is one cause for concern. Sharjah, for example, has lacked safety personnel in its industrial parks, leaving an open question how every home could receive attention.

Consider that in 2005, the last time a comprehensive national census was completed, there were more than 700,000 housing units in a country of roughly four million people. The population has grown considerably since then, and housing units have proliferated as well.

With just 217 officers as part of the spot inspection campaign, there are reasonable doubts whether the task can be finished on deadline. Regardless, inspections alone will not be enough. As Maj Gen Matrooshi told The National, each emirate has come to rely on its own code, to differing degrees of success.

At stake is people's property and their lives - we have seen how devastating these fires can be. If inspections and home visits prevent even one fire, they will be worth the effort. But new regulations must be backed by tough penalties. Until every illegally subdivided villa, shoddy construction project and bad electrical job is policed, preventable fires will continue to burn.