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       Volume 11 |Issue 23| June 08, 2012 |


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The Basics of Fire Safety

Obaidur Rahman

The Nimtoli tragedy – a stark reminder of negligence of both state and society. Photo: Star file

Slowly but steadily, Dhaka, is becoming a city of shattering disasters. And every time it takes the harsh and tragic deaths of innocent law-biding citizens to remind us that our safety is somewhat less of a concern and people's constitutional right to exist safely and peacefully is not being met with utmost sincerity. Tragedies like Nimtoli are stark reminders of how a deadly combination of human negligence and dreadful city mismanagement can cause utmost suffering and widespread destruction. In recent years, devastating fires have wreaked havoc in the capital. Those who have survived a fire, would tell you, that fire has a mind of its own! It'll just, find a way to get you. It is now evident that every building in the capital must be equipped with proper fire-safety measures and the know-how to combat fire.

It is really disappointing to see that proper fire safety measures are often overlooked by both the citizens and the concerned authorities. Fire safety assessment is advisable for every type of infrastructure and proper assessment of such will only ensure the removal or decrease of fire hazards that we often find ourselves surrounded by.

Some of the most common fire hazards include, overloaded electrical systems, fuel store areas with high oxygen concentration, blocked cooling ventilation systems, materials that produce toxic fumes when heated, improper use and maintenance of gas stoves, fire exit blockades, incorrectly installed and misuse of electrical appliances, leaving lit candles unattended and improperly extinguished cigarettes. Common sense is as important as a fire extinguisher when it comes to preparedness for any fire. Children should not have access to matches, lighters, gasoline, explosives of any kind, candles and stoves. Adults must not have toxic and flammable liquids and materials in residential buildings.

Cooking mishaps and electrical malfunctions are two of the most common sources of fire disasters in the capital. Thus, it is strongly advised to be extra vigilant when it comes to dealing with these. Keep cooking areas clear of combustible materials, and don't leave cooking unattended, store items on the stove top and place the stove under a window on which curtains are hanging.

If the grease catches fire, it is advised not to pour water on it, instead, turn off the burner and carefully slide a lid over the pan to smother the flames. As far as electrical appliances are concerned, if an appliance smokes up or emits a burning smell, unplug it immediately and have it repaired. All electrical cords must be checked regularly and if any are cracked or frayed, they must be replaced immediately with appropriate appliances. When it comes to usage of extension cords, do not overload them under any circumstances or run them under rugs.

In many homes, especially like the ones in the old Dhaka, the capacity of the wiring system has not kept pace with today's modern appliances. It must be remembered that overloaded electrical systems invite fire, and signals of such overload include, dimming lights when an appliance is switched on, a shrinking TV picture, slow heating appliances or fuses blowing up frequently.

If there is no way out, especially in the case of high rise buildings, take shelter in a room with a window and open it and call for help immediately. Photo: Star file

Considering the reality of facts, it might just not be possible for every household to be equipped with the most advanced of fire fighting appliances. But it is possible to install smoke detectors, fire alarms and placing working fire extinguishers in various yet easily accessible places of the home like the kitchen and garage. But above all, what is most important is to chalk out an escape plan in advance as well as an escape route (and practice such emergency evacuation drills routinely), so that the occupants of any building or infrastructure should have a clear idea regarding what to do in the event of a fire. It is also important to establish a safe meeting place, where everyone would gather immediately afterwards in the event of any fire or such related disasters.

In the event of a fire, first and foremost, if the clothes catch fire, one must not run, then DROP to the ground and cover the face with their hands to protect the lungs and then ROLL on the ground to put out the flames. Also, one must alert as many people as possible and get everyone out to safety following the escape route that everyone is familiar with. While doing so, do not delay to save valuables or investigate the nature of fire. Stay together if possible and remain calm and focused as much as possible.

It is also important to remember that before opening any doors during such evacuations, one must feel the door knob with the back of his/her hand. If the door knob is warm, it means there is fire on the other side. Also open only the door that is absolutely necessary and close any other doors in order to slow down the spread of the fire.

But what if it becomes absolutely impossible to get out through the planned escape route? It is suggested that if such is the case and if people are close to ground floor, then escape through the windows after throwing bedding or cushions onto the ground outside to break the fall. Other suggestions include, lower children as far as possible before letting them drop and if possible get an adult to break their fall. If there is no way out, especially in the case of high rise apartments, take shelter in a room with a window and open it and call for help immediately. In the meantime put cushions, towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to block the smoke and put a piece of wet cloth or a towel around the mouth to protect oneself from breathing the deadly smoke.

It is also advisable not to hide under a bed or inside a closet, because it will make it difficult for the fire-fighters to notice the person during evacuation. In case of such emergencies, it is unwise to use elevators, because they might take one right to the source of the fire. Some sequence of tasks is to be performed by authorised individuals (like building security guards) during such emergencies. These include switching on the fire alarm system as soon as news of the fire breaks out followed by switching off the main electricity switch. Also immediately contacting the nearest Fire service and Civil Defense authority is very crucial.

The most common cause of death in fires is the inhalation of noxious gases rather than the thermal injuries. In the event of a fire, smoke is inevitable. Thus it is suggested that when one sees smoke, one should lower themselves to the ground in order to inhale less toxic fumes and crawl on one's hands and knees below the smoke level towards the nearest safest exit.

It is quite unfortunate that Dhaka, the economic, political and socio-cultural centre of the country has experiences somewhat habitual deterioration of its urban as well as environmental settings. Experts elucidate on matters of poor urban planning, widespread corruption and negligence in the city development and management process. Many are, for a while now, starting to wonder whether Dhaka would be able to function even as a city in the near future let alone as the capital of the country. But only time will unfold that. However what is evident is that this unplanned urbanisation and the obvious negative outcome of that ailed process have quite degraded the very quality of the lives of the citizens to a dire extent.


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