x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The basic building blocks of fire safety

A tragic house fire in Al Ain, which killed a mother and four young children, should remind us that fire safety is a serious problem that can be solved by simple precautions around the house.

It is a sad story every time. As The National reports today, an electrical fault caused the death of a mother and her four young children in a house fire in Al Ain early yesterday.

Faulty electrical systems are too often the cause of deadly fires. Civil defence officials have been trying over the past few years to stamp out dangerous electrical installations in building and renovation, through inspections and awareness campaigns.

New buildings can be constructed only after civil defence authorities ensure that safety standards are being respected, but there is no such guarantee for older buildings - such as this latest fire site - because they do not require approvals.

Despite the campaigns, the issue persists and the serial killer is still at large. In yesterday's tragedy, the fire erupted while the family was asleep after an electrical fault caused a computer to catch fire. The father's attempts to save his children - all aged 10 and under - and his wife failed.

"The man went outside and broke a window and was screaming at her to hand him the children but she was unable to get them to him," a neighbour said. It was a tragedy that should be remembered.

Many fires start because of the heavy electrical load of air-conditioning systems - which are often used non-stop during the summer - particularly if wiring has been installed by unprofessional or unqualified electricians. Authorities cannot police every instance: residents and landlords have a responsibility to ensure that people comply with safety and security standards.

As The National found during visits to older houses last year, residents sometimes have nothing except a towel on hand to use to fight a fire.

"We were asleep and suddenly we heard a loud explosion," one resident told reporters. If such a fault had occurred while they were out, the whole building would have been ablaze. The building had no fire alarms, sprinklers or fire extinguishers. Another danger lies in the common subdivision of flats to accommodate as many tenants as possible. Exit routes can be blocked, which complicates rescue attempts.

Fire safety is everyone's responsibility. There's no formula for perfect safety but regular maintenance and compliance with safety standards are vital to control this threat to life and property.