Although electrical faults are often responsible for fire incidents, there is no electrical engineer on the building approval committee of Rajuk, vice-chancellor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) Prof Saiful Islam observed yesterday.
Speaking at a seminar titled “Fire hazard in buildings: Recent crisis” at the Buet auditorium, he further said there is no requirement for approval of the electrical design of a building, adding that such a crucial job is often done by untrained technicians.
Buet alumni society organised the seminar at Buet auditorium.
While there is an acute need of professionally-trained electrical technicians in the country, builders usually prefer untrained technicians to save a small amount of money, said Prof Islam.
Speakers at the seminar pointed out various weaknesses in the building approval process that contribute to fire risks.
“The current building plan approval process in the capital lacks representation of fire safety experts,” said Maksud Helali, a professor of mechanical engineering at Buet.
A high-rise building must have all required fire fighting facilities, he said. Severity of a fire incident depends on how it propagates, he said, so containing the propagation is the foremost challenge in the entire process of firefighting and safety.
“Most tall buildings [of the capital] -- 15-storied and higher -- have been found without fire safety provisions like emergency escape and protected alternative staircase,” said Prof Nizamuddin Ahmed, a noted fire safety expert, in a presentation.
Nizam said that he along with his students have surveyed a number of tall buildings in Dilkusha, Mohakhali and Gulshan commercial areas over the last week, some of which he visited a decade ago, and found them in high risk in the event of a fire.
Unobstructed emergency escape route, alternative staircase protected with fire-rated door and a 2.5-minute escape plan, are some of the vital fire safety provisions that those building still lack, he said.
“Smoke kills if a building lacks emergency escape,” he said, “In fact, every home must have an emergency escape plan.”
“Since 2004, I have occasionally visited these buildings, found them in dire state and reported time and again with photographs, but they [building authorities] have not yet given a damn for installing safety measures,” he said.
In most cases, building owners deviate from what the architects and engineers recommend in the building design, he said.
National Professor Jamilur Reza Chaudhury, president of Buet alumni society, said, “These prestigious buildings, designed by well-known architects lack fire safety features. Architects, engineers and building owners are all equally responsible for this situation. Safety supervision and maintenance are starkly missing in Bangladesh.”
Tall ladders is not a solution to fight a big fire, said Brig Gen (retd) Ali Ahmed Khan, immediate past director general of Fire Service and Civil Defense. “Absence of emergency escape or a blocked escape route turns a building into a death trap,” he said.
Indiscriminate use of glass in building construction must be brought under regulation, because it causes smoke chocking, said North Dhaka Mayor Atiqul Islam, referring to recent FR Tower fire tragedy that killed at least 27 people.
“We will cancel trade licences of shopping malls and markets that will fail to comply with fire safety within given deadline,” he said.