x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Teenager saves neighbours from apartment fire

Ian Hillman's quick thinking helped contain a fire and prevent it from causing serious damage in the 20-storey tower in Abu Dhabi.

Ian Hillman, 13, whose efforts helped to contain a fire.
Ian Hillman, 13, whose efforts helped to contain a fire.

ABU DHABI // False fire alarms were a regular nuisance in Ian Hillman's Khalidiya building. Common enough, at least, for many of the 13-year-old's neighbours to ignore.

On Friday night, however, Ian did what few occupants on floor 16 bothered to. He took the warning seriously.

His quick thinking helped contain a fire and prevent it from causing serious damage in the 20-storey tower.

It was after the alarm had been ringing for several moments, around 7pm, that Ian peered through the peephole of his flat to see the open door of the flat across the hall, flames from a lit candle climbing the drapes inside.

He called out that the alarm was "the real thing", then bolted for the kitchen and unhooked the fire extinguisher mounted to the wall, which, luckily, he was already acquainted with.

"It was just instinct," Ian said yesterday. "That's the first thing I thought of doing. I remembered the first day I got here, I wanted to know where the fire extinguisher was and how to lift it up."

Phyllis So and her husband, Richard, who were watching over Ian and his sister while their parents were out of town, were in the living room checking e-mails at the time. His 12-year-old sister, Athea, was watching TV. They, too, had disregarded the fire alarms sounding for several minutes, until the teenager began shouting.

With the occupant of 1611 out, presumably to seek help, Richard hoisted the extinguisher that had been too heavy for Ian and dashed across to the blaze. Other neighbours, alerted by the noise, joined in with their own extinguishers and the fire was out within five minutes.

In the days since the incident, Ian has been earning kudos from his neighbours. "They all said thank you," he said. "Quick wits, that sort of thing."

According to fire safety experts, it is typical for occupants to either ignore or respond to fire alarms slowly. While security personnel set them off routinely for drills, the system in Ian's building is sensitive enough to set off the building's alarm even in incidents of minor cooking mishaps.

Norm Labbe, the managing director of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety in Abu Dhabi, commended Ian for his awareness and efforts and said he provided an example for others.

"Schoolchildren, at a young age, if they're taught safety awareness - whether it's fire safety, road safety, food safety - often they're the ambassadors of change because they'll take it seriously and apply those learnings," he said.

The incident also highlighted another concern for Mr Labbe.

"A large portion of the population don't know how to use a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit," he said.

Later that night Richard, formerly with the US military, gave Ian, his sister and his wife lessons on using a fire extinguisher. "I think the whole floor will have lessons," said Ms So.



Fire safety editorial, page a19