Safety inspections can help prevent fires, but some residents say the cursory inspections they have seen are not enough.
Fire safety: an inspector calls, but then what?
ABU DHABI //Nearly six months after Civil Defence launched a home fire safety programme, residents say their homes have not been properly inspected, if inspected at all.
Inspectors are supposed to examine every home in the country as part of a campaign to warn residents about potential fire hazards.
As part of the public awareness programme, which is due to conclude in June, a team of inspectors is point out safety concerns and provide information pamphlets to residents.
After the inspection, the Civil Defence officers ask residents to sign a form confirming their home has been inspected, and a sticker is placed outside.
But many residents say the inspection teams never enter their homes.
AA, a 28-year-old Egyptian homemaker who lives in Khalidiyah, said the inspectors were polite and professional, but they never asked to come into her flat.
"Neither of them came in, or asked to come in. I would have let them. The kids' grandmother was around so I would have let them come in, but they didn't ask.
"They gave me a brochure on fire safety, placed a sticker on the door and asked me to sign a piece of paper. The whole exchange only took a couple of minutes."
Residents in Al Reef said inspectors visited in April, but many did not speak English and few asked questions.
"I didn't realise they were supposed to be checking houses to make sure they were safe," said CR, a British resident of Al Reef. "They never made any attempt to come in."
Though the inspectors did not enter homes, residents said the information the Civil Defence officers provided was valuable. The inspectors discussed the importance of fire and smoke detectors and described what to do in case of an emergency.
MS, a Pakistani who lives in Dubai, said inspectors visited his villa in January and outlined some basic safety requirements, including the proper way to maintain and use a fire extinguisher.
"It was a good plan, because they had some really informative stuff, but if they wanted to show us physically what we should do, they should have come inside,.
"If people just take the information and don't do anything about it, then the programme will not be effective."
Civil Defence officials, however, dismissed claims that their staff were not performing inspections properly.
Lt Col Hamad al Riyami, director of the stations department at Abu Dhabi Civil Defence and chairman of the home safety campaign in the capital, called the resident complaints "just talk".
"Not everything said should be believed," he said. "Teams of six are deployed for each house, two to talk and the rest to inspect. Why would they just give away the bags [containing fire safety tips] and not do the inspections?"
Eissa al Bayraq, who worked as an inspector in the first two months of the programme, said his team always completed the inspections inside residents' homes.
"For integrity, of course we wouldn't do this. We have a conscience. We wouldn't cheat the Government."
Lt Col al Riyami said the inspectors had checked nearly 50,000 houses in Abu Dhabi, putting them ahead of their target for this point in the campaign.
He also said the number of fires had dropped between 15 and 20 per cent since inspections began. Exact figures were not available, but Lt Col al Riyami said fewer fires have been reported, a statistic he attributed to the increase in awareness.
Norm Labbe, a fire safety expert and the managing director of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety, said the safety inspection campaign is an important first step to comprehensive fire prevention in the UAE, but more needs to be done. "They could capitalise on this opportunity," Mr Labbe said. "People are welcoming the inspections, so why not use the opportunity to really educate people?
"They're doing something that is positive, but are they getting the full investment from the visit?"
Mr Labbe, who is working to develop a plan to collaborate with Civil Defence to provide community training, also said an important component is missing from the inspection programme.
"There definitely needs to be follow-up," he said. "There's the initial visit, and they can give the educational component. Then they could perform the inspection and leave a checklist of what they inspected and what needs to be done to comply with fire regulations. At the next visit, if you've met the checklist, then you get a sticker."
A progress report will be released after each of the six months of the campaign, which began at the end of December.
Once the campaign is over, fire data will be analysed to see what difference it has made.
* With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani