Civil Defence teams have started knocking on doors across the country this week to educate residents about fire safety, warning them about hazards from gas leaks to overcrowded storage rooms.
Fire safety experts begin door-to-door campaign
ABU DHABI // As Eissa al Bayraq opened the valve of a gas cylinder, he spotted a problem: it was leaking.
"This should not be left open," said the Civil Defence sergeant, pointing to a loose rubber tube.
"A child can easily turn on the switch, and the gas will spread sooner than you think - it is like air. You can't imagine the amount of gas compressed in this container," he said as he toured the house in New Mushrif.
The home of Yasser al Yarubi, a 61-year-old former army officer, was one of 876 in the capital that Civil Defence teams visited on Monday at the start of their six-month fire safety campaign.
Twelve teams of eight officers will be checking houses each afternoon. By the end of the six months, they aim to have visited 86,000 homes in Abu Dhabi.
Mr al Yarubi's son, Yahya, a 20-year-old student, rubbed sleep from his eyes as he opened the door to the inspectors.
Confused at first, he welcomed them in, but they paused: they needed to know if the owner was happy to have them enter. They also needed for the women to know that a group of strange men was about to enter their house.
"We have to be tactful and considerate," said Capt Mohammed al Braiki, team district head. "Our goal is to befriend the people and not barge into their houses."
Once inside, the team went over a fire safety map with Mr al Yarubi and his son. The house had no fire extinguishers. The family should get some, and learn to use them, the inspectors said.
"The civil defence station is two steps away," Mr al Yarubi said. "Once, my son locked himself in the bathroom. My wife just walked to the station and got help. They were here in two minutes."
Even so, said the inspectors, they needed extinguishers, just in case.
They moved through to the kitchen, where an open door revealed a storage room piled high with boxes, bags and domestic products.
"You should either re-arrange the items or keep the door closed," said Sgt al Bayraq, "because a child can easily get lost between the things and no one can reach him."
Next door, Ahmad al Junaibi's storage room was in a much better state.
"The items are neatly stacked and there is enough room between the things and the ceiling," said Abdulaziz al Thaheri, one of the inspectors. "If they reach the ceiling, they could light up from the heat of the bulb."
Not all was well, though. Gas cylinders sat right next to the oven.
"The cylinders should be covered and placed outside the house, not inside, and they should use copper tubes instead of rubber," he added.
One oven was placed outside the kitchen - another concern. Mr al Junaibi, 24, an Emirati estate agent, promised to make the necessary changes.
Most homeowners were happy to receive the teams - but not all, including one former director of Civil Defence.
When the eight-strong team appeared at Brig Gen Salem Abdoun's doorstep, no one was ready to let them enter.
After 10 minutes of waiting and asking various members of the household to call the person in charge of the house, the brigadier general finally appeared and greeted the officers in the living room. But there would be no tour, he decided - they were not prepared.
"This is really good what you are doing," he told the inspectors.
The nationwide campaign was initiated by Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, following a number of house fires last year.