x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

No fire safety system in condemned building

After two deaths in a fire in the Tourist Club area, residents in a nearby building voice fears.

ABU DHABI // Residents of a building due to be demolished say they are living in fear because of defective smoke alarms and faulty fire extinguishers in the nearly abandoned 12-storey tower. The building's manager acknowledged that the site was "very dangerous", but said there was little point in maintaining a structure that will be torn down within the next few months.

Residents of the Khalifah al Fahad building on Electra Street voiced their concerns yesterday after two people died in a fire last week in another condemned building in the Tourist Club area. Ibrahim Abdullah, 44, lives in one of about 10 flats still occupied by residents who said they could not afford housing elsewhere. He complained that they were living without proper fire prevention systems. "There is no smoke alarm and no maintenance," the Lebanese human resources worker said. "The extinguisher has not been changed in three years. This one does not work. It must be changed."

On the sixth floor, where Mr Abdullah lives with his wife and three children for Dh65,000 (US$17,700) a year, the fire extinguisher's pressure gauge showed a reading of zero. He stopped several floors below and gestured at a fire alarm. "All broken," said Mr Abdullah, who has lived in the building for three years. "My son, he pulled it and nothing happened." Mr Abdullah said he had warned a neighbour to stop dropping cigarettes in the hallways, which are strewn with old newspapers, cardboard and bits of wood.

Last week, another apartment block scheduled to be knocked down was ravaged by a fire which killed two people. At least 32 residents, mostly low-paid labourers, were injured, suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation and from broken bones sustained when they tried to jump out of the burning structure. The manager of Khalifah al Fahad Properties agreed that safety was a concern in Mr Abdullah's building, but said there was no reason to upgrade the building with modern fire-prevention systems if the structure would be pulled down by next March.

"This one isn't for maintenance, it's for demolition," said the manager, who gave the name Ahmed. "Of course, it's very dangerous now. But how do you [maintain] it when we are to demolish it after three months or after four months?" The manager said he also lived in the building, but would be moving out within a fortnight. Another manager with the property company, who asked not to be named, said all the tenants were instructed to leave the building at least two years ago.

The residents had managed to delay the demolition several times by appealing to the Abu Dhabi Committee for Settlement of Rent Disputes, said Eissa Rasheed, a Filipino-Emirati, who grew up in a flat on the sixth floor. Like his neighbours, Mr Rasheed reasoned that the remaining families would not leave the property because of steep rents elsewhere. The 20-year-old mechanical engineering student did not know when the building was scheduled for demolition.

He said rats had become a common sight and one of two lifts was permanently out of order. "We got used to using the stairs," he said. "The last time I heard the fire alarm was a long time ago. Maybe four years ago," he said. "I don't know if anything's working, so hopefully nothing will happen here." mkwong@thenational.ae