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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Drills, boats and robots: the future of fighting fires in Dubai

Civil Defence officials told of plans to adopt new methods to reduce the number of fires in the emirate and improve their efficiency when tackling them

Experts from around the world shared examples of major fires that broke out in their home countries, including as Adam Thiel, commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department in the US. Pawan Singh / The National
Experts from around the world shared examples of major fires that broke out in their home countries, including as Adam Thiel, commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department in the US. Pawan Singh / The National

Hundreds of evacuation drills were conducted in high-rise buildings across Dubai last year, Civil Defence revealed on Wednesday.

“A total of 883 evacuation drills were carried out in different areas in Dubai, including Dubai Marina and Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard as part of mandatory requirements to get residents respond faster, react calmly and follow safety procedures in case of a fire,” said Brig Rashid Buflasa, director general for fire and rescue at Dubai Civil Defence.

“Drills are vital as they help train security staff and make residents more familiar with the process. They also help identify the number of children and people who may require assistance in a building should a fire break out,” said Brig Buflasa during fire safety forum.

He said some 474,330 people benefited from the evacuation drills last year.

At the forum, Civil Defence officials told of plans to adopt new methods to reduce the number of fires in the emirate and improve their efficiency when tackling them.

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Experts from around the world shared examples of major fires that broke out in their home countries last year and the lessons they learnt from them. They also warned of incorrect practices carried out by some residents in the buildings which caught fire that contributed to their deaths.

Mr Changmok Lee, an official from the national fire agency of South Korea, spoke about the Jecheon fire that broke out on December 21 at the Duson Sporium sport centre due to faulty electrical wiring.

“Twenty-nine people died in the Jecheon fire,” he said.

“Fires in high rise-building are very dangerous due to the complexity of evacuation procedures.

“People living in high-rise buildings need to take stairs not use the lift when a fire erupts the building.”

Mr Lee said those who died had perished from smoke inhalation, which could have been avoided had the centre been evacuated correctly.

Five major fires fuelled by flammable aluminium cladding broke out in the UAE over the past six years.

Calls for stringent inspections were renewed after the second fire in as many years spread across The Torch tower, one of the world’s tallest residential buildings, in Dubai Marina in August last year.

On Wednesday, Civil Defence officials said a tougher fire safety code was implemented in a bid to minimize these risks and human–caused fires.

“According to the new code, manufactures, facility managements and residents will be held responsible if they cause a fire. There are stricter rules and fines for people who cause a fire,” said Lt Col Ali Al Mutawa, assistant director of smart services department at Dubai Civil Defence.

Among the strategies to improve response time and fire-fighting capabilities is the consideration for artificial intelligence.

The director of Civil Defence told the forum of plans to replace firefighters with robots to protect.

“The technology will be obtained from South Korea where it is in a trial phase of testing robots in battling fires,” said Maj Gen Rashid Al Matroushi.

Civil Defence also intend to introduce firefighting boats to handle offshore fires.

“This is part of Dubai’s strategy to harness the latest technology to increase the efficiency of fire-fighting operations and reduce fatalities resulting from fires,” Maj Gen Al Matroushi said.

He also revealed plans to open the first research centre to conduct studies on firefighting and rescue operations in a bid to improve efficiency.

Eight years in the making, the centre is set to open later this year and will involve information exchanges with other countries to benefit from their expertise.

“The centre will conduct in-depth studies on fires and analyse the points of strength and weakness in firefighting work.”