x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Residents not prepared for fire, UAE experts say

Despite efforts to spread a fire-safety message, residents are reluctant to make contingency plans, experts say.

DUBAI // Despite efforts to spread a fire-safety message, residents are reluctant to make contingency plans, experts say.

"Unless it affects us directly, we have a common complacency. That is human nature," said Barry Bell, the managing director at Wagner Fire Safety Management Consultants. "Ask your neighbour what they have done and they will more than likely deal with it on the day it will happen."

But the public cannot always be prepared, even if there is ample information available from Civil Defence.

"Any family concerned about the building they live in, either a high-rise or a villa, can go to Civil Defence and can get help, assistance and information," Mr Bell said. "There are tonnes of brochures in English and Arabic, which give an insight into what is needed. They can approach any fire engineer and get the information they want."

Melchi Joseph, general manager of Profire Safety Consultants, said there had never been a culture of installing smoke alarms in this country, and that the authorities have not enforced the practice in new villas.

"No one is installing them in the villas," he added. "It's only in apartments because everything is already installed when they're built."

Most homes should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, although the device is only effective on small, manageable fires.

"I would never recommend [individuals] deal with the fire," Mr Bell said. "They should concentrate on getting people out of the building and leave it up to the fire services."

By law, buildings must maintain their fire alarms.

"Let's assume they work," Mr Bell said. "In a lot of older buildings in Dubai, or in shared accommodation with five or six in one room, [it is] a bit more dangerous. The possibility of a fire is greater and getting out is more difficult."

Raising awareness among lower-income and often less-educated members of society has been a challenge.

"Look at JBR or JLT [towers in Dubai] and ask residents what their plans are," Mr Bell said. "They won't have a clue. They'll say they'll put their shorts on and go down the stairs."

But Mr Bell admitted the situation was similar in other countries.

He advocated that a survey be conducted to find out how well prepared UAE residents are for a home or building fire.

"We should know how well they are informed," said Mr Bell. "Do they know there are plenty of outlets from the Civil Defence, Ministry of Interior and private consultants?"

eharnan@thenational.ae