After flames, Hanoi building found to have violated fire safety standards

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The 33-floor Hanoi building that caught fire Thursday, injuring 11, failed to meet fire and safety regulations, an official told Thanh Nien Friday.

To Xuan Thieu, vice director of Hanoi's Fire Department, said the building, one of the twin towers invested by the state-owned power utility Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), was not equipped with proper firefighting equipment.

Although it was still under construction when the accident occurred, regulations require that each floor, once finished, be sufficiently equipped to prevent and fight potential fires, he said.

According to the official, initial site inspections showed that the fire was probably caused by electrical leakage, or stray sparks from welding devices, which fell onto flammable material in the building's basement.

The fire broke out at around 4 p.m. in the basement and burned for five hours. The 11 injured were among some 40 workers who were all rescued.

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At a meeting convened by Hanoi's authorities Friday immediately following the accident, Nguyen The Thao, chairman of the municipal People's Committee, the city government, ordered criminal police to cooperate with related agencies to investigate what had caused the fire

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They were also asked to review the building's compliance with regulations on fire fighting and prevention, as well as labor safety.

Thao said it was critical that officials identify the cause of the fire and that the case be handled strictly.

"The fire's images recorded yesterday were like those of the US World Trade Center towers [on September 11, 2001], shocking the whole country and concerning many people," Thao said.

He also expressed concern that fire-fighters lacked suitable equipment to deal with skyscraper blazes and ordered the local agency to buy more advanced equipment. The incident revealed that the department's ladders could not reach higher floors, he said.

Related agencies also need to expand their inspections into the firefighting systems of the city's taller buildings, Thao said.

In an interview with Thanh Nien, General Do Van Son, chief of the Fire Fighting and Prevention Department under the Ministry of Public Security, said fighting fires in high buildings has caused his department headaches due to a dearth of advanced equipment.

However, he stressed that awareness on the part of investors and people is the most important factor for fighting and preventing fires.

Currently fire ladders in Hanoi are 53 meters long, while those in Ho Chi Minh City are 72 meters, but "in many localities there are buildings that are 200-300 meters, so even 72-meter ladders can't reach them," he said.

Moreover, people need to understand that high ladders do not necessarily equal effective firefighting because it is difficult to operate such ladders, which potentially pose risks to both firefighters and victims, according to the official.

Work on the 33-floor EVN tower began in 2009, together with its twin, a 29-floor. The utility planned to invest VND2 trillion (US$95.2 million) into the towers, which would serve as the utility's headquarters when completed.

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