Vol. 5 Num 99 Wed. September 01, 2004  
Star City

High-rises living on the edge

Many high-rise buildings in the city have no emergency escape routes or fire fighting devices, making them vulnerable in emergency situations.

The Eastern Tower, an 18-storied apartment block in New Eskaton where 180 families reside in three buildings, has been constructed without any emergency escape door. The fire fighting tools that had been there when the apartment was opened have not been replaced or upgraded even after 13 years.

"We have only one staircase and two elevators in each building. In the event of an emergency all the people will try to exit the building at the same time. It will be total chaos and I fear very few will be able to get out safely," said a resident of Eastern Tower.

Eastern Housing Ltd. Officials claimed that when they built the tower, there was no rule for adding emergency escapes and did not want to take responsibility of the problems faced by residents.

"The association of the flat owners maintain and look after the apartments after we hand over the flats," said an official of Eastern Housing Ltd.

A good number of 15-20-storied buildings are ill equipped to tackle fires and more alarmingly, the fire-fighting devices available have crossed their expiry dates. Besides, very few of the residents know how to use them.

"It is our own fault that we do not know how to use the fire-extinguisher or the water-hose.

"We never even think about an accident and that is why we are totally unprepared to face a crisis," said a resident of Twin Tower Concord at Shantinagar.

According to Rajuk's Building Construction Rules 1996, there should be adequate emergency exit options in every high-rise and they must be kept separate from the staircase lobby and the elevators. Dhaka's developers hardly follow that rule.

"The developers are violating the rules. The designs they send us for approval show emergency exits but they are not there in the constructed building," said Jamal Akter Bhuiyan, authorised officer- 4 of Rajuk.

Rajuk's rules suggest that the emergency exit must be atleast 25 metres apart from the nearest gateway on a floor. But buildings that have emergency escapes in most cases have constructed the main stairway and emergency stairs within a few feet of each other. If the lobby is on fire, both the staircases stand to become inoperative.

After repeated fire-related accidents and deaths in garment factories, the residents of the high- rises are also concerned that similar disasters could strike them anytime.

"I just can't imagine what will happen if there is a fire in our building," said Lutfuzzaman Khan of Mona Tower in Eskaton where about 60 families live without an emergency exit or fire fighting tools.

The Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB) informed that it has a monitoring team to watch over the matter.

"We always encourage adequate fire fighting devices and required numbers of emergency exits in high-rises. If any REHAB member violates the rules, we take action against the company," claimed a REHAB official.