City buildings ill-equipped against fire

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Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are stepping up safety inspections of residential apartment complexes to check their compliance with fire safety regulations, authorities said last week, adding strict measures will be taken against violations.

The capital city administration said on March 12 it has ordered the police and other related agencies to thoroughly investigate the safety of local apartment buildings, particularly in terms of fire prevention.

HCMC's Fire Prevention and Fighting Police Department has demanded periodical checks of apartments, office and trade complexes accompanied by tougher punishment. It has also announced an inspection into buildings with high population density in central districts next week.

The recent moves by both cities follow a fire accident on March 10 at the 18-story JSC 34 building in Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District that killed two people.

Initial investigations showed that someone had put ash or coal in their trash bags before throwing it into the building's garbage room, sparking the fire that took one and half hours to be put out.

While Thanh Xuan District police's investigation is still ongoing, experts have urged that they closely scrutinize the building's design as well as its firefighting and prevention system.

In fact, the police found flaps open to the trash pipe at apartments on the two top floors and other equipment inside the pipe all burned down, although they were supposed to be made from non-inflammable materials.

They also found that the building with 180 apartments did not have an automatic firefighting system.

Pham Sy Liem, vice chairman of the Federation of Civil Engineering Associations, rejected the possibility that the newly-built building's firefighting and prevention system was degraded. He urged inspections into agencies relating to its construction, including those who were in charge of checking it and taking it over.

Others, meanwhile, doubted that the investor, Construction Joint-stock Company No. 34, had purchased insurance against fires and explosions for the building, which was put into use more than one year ago, VnExpress reported.

No exception

Nguyen Dinh Binh, deputy head of Hanoi's Fire Prevention and Fighting Agency (PC23), said his agency's latest inspection ended last December had found many of the 364 buildings with more than 10 floors in the city had problems with fire prevention and fighting systems.

Lighting systems specific for emergency cases malfunctioned, and bodyguards had not been trained in firefighting and prevention skills, Binh said.

The inspection also found low awareness among residents of fire hazards and prevention measures. They often burned votive papers in the corridor, and threw ash and burning coal into the building's garbage room.

In fact, last year the capital recorded two fires that started from the buildings' garbage rooms.

PC23 noted that many buildings were occupied by more residents than their designed capacities, making it hard for them to escape in emergency cases.

A similar situation was reported in HCMC, where related agencies found shortcomings in firefighting and prevention systems at many local buildings, Le Tan Buu, vice director of HCMC Fire Prevention and Fighting Police Department, told Thanh Nien in a recent interview.

Thanh Nien's observation at several apartment buildings like Mieu Noi in Binh Thanh District and Cay Mai in District 11, in fact, found that their automatic firefighting and fire alarm systems were all broken down. Some did not even have fire extinguishers in place.

Residents, meanwhile, have been setting up electric devices with high capacities without informing buildings' management boards. They also pile up goods and park motorbikes right outside the building, impeding free entry and exit.

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