Though the recent fires at Gulshan DCC market, Banani, Suhrawardy Hospital and Nimtoli have served as a wake-up call for the citizens of the country it is commendable and reassuring to know that a few measures have been taken in Chattogram to prevent fire from breaking out.
Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) and Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) formed separate teams to conduct drives but no such operation has yet been seen. Officials from Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) Chattogram office visited a few places and indentified some structures as at risk of fire. But, that is all that is mentionable at the moment from the agencies concerned.
According to Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) Chattogram office there are nearly three lakh buildings in the city. Among them, 97 percent of the high rise buildings have no NOC (No objection certificate) for fire safety. Though seven percent of the owners applied for NOC only three percent building owners collected the NOC following all rules and regulations. Most of the shopping malls and markets of port city Chattogram have inadequate or even no fire safety measures, posing threat to fire incidents. FSCD is capable of dousing fire up to the height of 18 storied buildings but in Chattogram CDA gives approval up to 30 storied building. FSCD said there are huge compact places where fire vehicles would not be able to move if a fire breaks out. Another danger at present is that different corporate houses use fingerprint lock to open the door which becomes inactive when power is disrupted.
Most of the hospitals and clinics of Chattogram have been operating without adequate or even no fire safety measures, risking lives though a hospital is supposed to have some basic fire safety features and special fire fighting equipment.
Officials of FSCD Chattogram said that only three percent of the private and public hospitals and healthcare centres in the port city have adequate fire safety measures. The malls and markets have no water reservoir and fire fighting equipment while some shopping malls are located in so jam-packed area that fire fighting vehicles cannot reach there.
A hospital is different from any other establishment, as it is difficult to evacuate patients in the event of any fire. Therefore, any such incident at a hospital results in high casualty.
Most of the private clinics and hospitals are not purpose-built. In most cases, the residential buildings have turned into clinics. Hospitals and clinics keep oxygen cylinders, chemicals and other inflammable materials, which pose a serious risk of casualty in case of any fire breakouts.
Adequate ventilation system, basement or semi-basement, water reservoir, fire fighting pump, fire lift, ramp, generator, transformer and switch rooms with fire rated walls and door, sprinkler heads, hose reels along with hydrants on every floor is a must for a place where people go to get treated.
FSCD categorizes the hospitals and clinics into three categories- very risky, risky and satisfactory. It carried out an inspection on February 2018 and categorized Chattogram Eye Infirmary and Training Complex establishment as risky as it has no water pump room or a fire control room, no single line diagram, fire rated walls and doors, sprinkler heads, hose reels, hydrants, manual call points, alarm bells, emergency exit lights, lightning protection system or even a trained in-house fire fighting team or anything remotely close to all these. FSCD carried out an inspection at the Mostafa-Hakim Maternity Hospital on December 2018 and categorized the facility as risky for not having adequate fire safety measures.
The experts and FSCD also opined that the condition of government hospitals is better than private clinics and hospitals.
According to Chattogram FSCD, the numbers of fire accidents stand at 498, 663 and 577 in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.
FSCD officials said that in Chattogram city around 50 to 60 per cent of multi-storey buildings, both commercial and residential, had no fire clearance certificate while only five to 10 per cent of commercial multi-storey buildings had the certificate. They said that owners of most of the renowned shopping malls such as New Market, Chattogram Shopping Complex, Sunmar Ocean City, Central Plaza, and Akhtaruzaman Centre do not have adequate fire safety measures. Many malls have no water reservoir while many others which have the facility do not have any pipeline which fire service can use, they said. It is mandatory for the owner of any building, be it commercial or residential, to take fire service clearance.
A mobile court of Chattogram district administration, conducted drive on 2017 to check fire safety situation in the city markets and multi-storey shopping malls. On the same day, the court visited Riaz Uddin Bazar and detected various problems, including exposed live electric wires, building with unauthorised designs, narrow lanes, and absence of fire fighting equipment. The court conducted drive at another business hub, Asadganj, and fined two chemical traders for not taking fire safety clearance. There are 140 markets housing several thousand shops at Riaz Uddin Bazar. These markets are most vulnerable to fire as they are in a very congested area. The lanes are so narrow that fire fighting vehicles would not be able to enter into the area.
Along with the slums and densely populated areas the danger also lurks in the high-rise markets, shopping malls and residential apartments as most of them lack fire safety measures. According to fire protection and prevention acts, it is mandatory to obtain license from fire service department for developing any commercial building and residential building over six-storey. Punishments like jail or confiscation of properties or both can be awarded for violation of the act. But, there are markets and residential apartments developed defying the act and other fire safety measures posing a great risk of fire accident in the port city.
Experts and officials concerned have said that negligence in ensuring fire safety measures and rampant breach of the existing building law and code posing serious threat to Chattogram city.
They also blamed slack monitoring by the officials concerned regarding fire protection and irregularities in clearing multi-storey building projects, hospitals and shopping malls that lack proper or minimum fire safety standards, for the situation.
According to them, the fire service also needs to increase the capacity of its manpower and logistic support, to help ward off any worse situation.
FSCD sources said that after the survey of 2018 different measures have been taken in Chattogram the government is also going to construct two more modern stations in Anowara and Khulshi. In Chattogram 30 fire hydrants were set up and more 200 hydrants would also be set up soon. There are a total of 11 fire stations in Chattogram district.
However, CDA said every government organization has its own acts and rules. FSCD Chattogram could monitor whether the markets, shopping malls and hospitals have NOC (No objection certificate) or not. Then they could go for action and it was their duty.
On the other hand FSCD is now saying that they are capable to douse fire up to 18 storied high rise buildings but CDA gives approval up to 30 storied buildings. It is ridiculous as in the world buildings are being built vertically. It is absurd that FSCD could not ensure their capacity enhancement that’s why CDA would not give approval to high rise buildings. So, FSCD need to strengthen their capability by bringing modern equipment and it has its own inspectors for monitoring.
According to CDA there are 24 authorized officers in Dhaka whereas Chattogram has only two authorized officers. The capital has 100 inspectors but the port city has only 12 inspectors. Dhaka has 30 town planners whereas Chattogram has three town planners against six posts as others three posts are vacant.
The slow and steady action, shortage of manpower and equipments of the concerned authorities create frustration among the residents of Chattogram. Measures should be taken before any incident and after the incident after the loss of lives.
Ferdous Ara is a journalist and English news orator at Bangladesh Betar.