x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

UAE nurseries boost fire safety measures in wake of Doha tragedy

Staff re-evaluate fire safety measures in UAE nurseries after 13 children died in Qatar nursery blaze at the Villaggio Mall.

A woman places flowers at Villaggio Mall in Doha. The blaze, which killed 19 foreign nationals, including 13 children, has led UAE nurseries to look at their safety measures.
A woman places flowers at Villaggio Mall in Doha. The blaze, which killed 19 foreign nationals, including 13 children, has led UAE nurseries to look at their safety measures.

Local nurseries are re-evaluating their safety measures following  the fire in Qatar that killed 13 children four weeks ago.

Jigsaw Nursery in Abu Dhabi has built a new fire escape, while Teddy Bear American Nursery, also in the capital, has introduced a new fire safety manual and increased the frequency of fire drills.

And in Al Ain, House of Colours Nursery invited a retired policeman to examine the facility and provide a thorough safety report.

“Obviously there’s a huge focus after the tragedy,” said the nursery’s director, Christine O’Connor.

The fatal fire broke out in Doha  on May 28, trapping people in an unlicensed nursery in the Villaggio Mall. Four staff members, two firefighters and 13 children died.

“It’s just your worst nightmare,” said Victoria Nichol, the director of Jigsaw Nursery.

Ms Nichol’s said her nursery had recently passed a Civil Defence inspection.

Ms Nichol’s added that her staff have always held regular fire drills, but, after the Doha fire, parents had begun to worry about how children would escape from the first floor of the facility, located inside a villa.

“In all inspections we’ve had in five years, this has never been a question that’s been asked,” Ms Nichol said.

Many nurseries in the UAE are inside converted villas.

“In all of these villas, there was really no way to get down from the top floor,” Ms Nichol said. “None of them come with a fire escape.”

Soon after the fire, Jigsaw hired a private contractor to install an external fire escape. The nursery also created a new fire safety policy.

“It wasn’t even that we had a lot of actual concerns about the safety of the building,” Ms Nichol said. “It was just people coming in and saying, what would happen if? What would you do?”

Nurseries undergo Civil Defence inspections in addition to inspections by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Officials at the ministry could not be reached for comment.

In Abu Dhabi, the ministry also joins forces with Civil Defence to provide safety training to nursery teachers.

Staff at Jungle Book Nursery, in Al Ain, took a three-day course with Civil Defence last week, said teacher Nuha Salman. They learned about first aid and what to do in case of a fire.

“They are very worried [because of the Qatar fire],” Ms Salman said. “They want us to be ready. If anything happens, we must at least know what we will do.”

The renewed concern has led to an increase in business for Unisafe, a fire safety company based in the UAE. The company’s office in Qatar was inundated with calls, said Balamurugan Sivarajan, an engineer.

“The response there is so much,” Mr Sivarajan said.

Parents have also started asking new questions since the fire, such as whether their nursery conducts fire drills, said Kate Phillips, director of Humpty Dumpty Nursery in Abu Dhabi.

“No parent has ever asked me that,” Ms Phillips said. “And yet parents have asked now. I was really proud to say, yes we have, and the last one was two-and-a-half minutes until all the children were out of the building.”

Erin Brannen, the mother of a six-month-old boy in Abu Dhabi, was particularly shaken by the Doha fire. She used to live in Qatar and knew the godfather of the two-year-old triplets who died in the fire.

Ms Brannen, 31, from Canada, immediately worried about the nursery where she sends her son, in Khalifa City A. Staff reassured her that the facility had fire exits and alarms.

“The lady said the whole day that they were talking about how they would get the babies out,” she said. “It made me feel a lot better that they were thinking about it too.”

Ms Brannen also began to think about safety in her own home, a villa in Al Reef. She and her husband bought smoke alarms and talked about evacuation routes.

“If something were to happen we’d be caught on the second floor,” Ms Brannen said.