Fire safety experts say simple steps can help save lives, following tragedy in which mother and son were killed and nearly two dozen people were displaced.
Lessons learnt from Al Ain fire tragedy
ABU DHABI // Fire safety experts say tragedies such as the blaze that killed a mother and son and displaced nearly two dozen people in Al Ain last weekend can be avoided.
The Civil Defence is six months into a fire-safety inspection initiative, a door-to-door campaign intended to raise awareness about hazards. The emirate's new fire codes that outline regulations for new buildings should be completed by the end of the year.
But fire safety begins at home, experts and officials said this week.
Fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are the first line of defence for residents in case of fire, but experts warn it is not enough to have the proper equipment.
"They have to be checked and maintained properly," said Norm Labbe, a fire safety expert and the managing director of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety.
"If smoke detectors are installed in homes, are they strategically located? Are they in the right place? Residents must have the appropriate number of smoke detectors to accommodate their needs. Most people should have at least two per flat."
The batteries in smoke detectors should be replaced every six months, and Mr Labbe suggested regularly checking to make sure the alarm on the device was working. Villas should also have a detector on each floor.
Elizabeth Weglarek, 47, a nurse from Poland who lives in the capital, admitted: "I have something on the ceiling and it has a blinking light, but I don't know if it works. It was there when I moved in."
New building codes require smoke detectors in each residence but many older buildings in the capital are not fitted with alarms.
Sabrina Weber, a housewife from Germany who moved to Abu Dhabi last year, said she installed her own smoke detector in her villa.
"We thought it was important to have one but we had to find it ourselves," said Mrs Weber, 32. "I'm sure our neighbours don't have one."
Finding a smoke detector in the capital can prove to be a challenge. Spinneys does not sell smoke detectors and neither does Lulu Hypermarket at Al Wahda Mall, they said. Carrefour in Marina Mall sells only one brand of the device.
The largest selection can be found at the ACE Hardware store in Mina Zayed, where four different brands, priced between Dh45 and Dh199, were for sale.
Carbon monoxide detectors, which can detect the poisonous but odourless and colourless gas, were not available at any of the stores.
Maria Sandrasagra, 29, from Sri Lanka, said her studio flat in Al Wahda did not have a smoke detector and she had never thought of getting one.
"Back home we don't have smoke detectors, so I never really thought about it," Ms Sandrasagra said. "I know I should, though."
The Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) and Civil Defence is working on a fire code that will require new buildings to have clearly marked fire exits, smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and alarms. Buildings will also be constructed with fire-resistant materials, according to the regulations.
"We will find a way to mutually help ensure that buildings are properly designed, built and maintained," said Ali Bukair, a consultant for policies and regulations with the DMA.
The fire code will merge current regulations with international fire code standards.
Fire safety inspectors also recommend kitchens, children's rooms, bathrooms, hallways and storerooms be equipped with smoke and heat detectors, and fire extinguishers should be available in the kitchen and corridors.
In February, a poll showed that 65 per cent of 751 residents said they did not have fire extinguishers in their homes.
"It's going to take government agencies working with the community to raise awareness about the importance of these small steps," said Mr Labbe.
In the capital, 65,266 homes out of a targeted 86,640 were visited as part of the Civil Defence fire safety inspections this year. More than 290 were found to be dangerous.