Most of the markets of Dhaka city corporations are vulnerable to fire as they do not have enough firefighting resources, thanks to the indifference of corporations and shop owners.
The issue of poor firefighting system in markets came to the forefront after the recent fire incident at Gulshan Kitchen Market. Shop owners and city corporations have been trading blame for lack of fire safety.
A city corporation official said installation of necessary firefighting equipment in markets was the corporations' job. The market owners' associations are responsible for maintenance and safety of the gear.
If the associations fail to perform, the corporations will have to do the maintenance with funds from shop owners, the official told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.
These correspondents visited over 20 markets of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) last week and found those ill-equipped.
In the last five years, there had been three fire incidents at Sundarban Square Super Market, one of the largest shopping centres in the city for electronic and electrical products.
But the market authorities were yet to have enough firefighting equipment except for some fire extinguishers.
Visiting the market in the city's Gulistan on January 4, The Daily Star found that there was no water spraying system in the six-storey building. Besides, there were no sand-filled buckets and hosepipe in any of the floors.
Shah Ahmed Badal, president of the shop owners' association, said they had 18 fire extinguishers.
However, none of those had expiry date attached.
A similar scenario was found with the age-old DCC Paribagh Super Market which is famous for antique items and jewelries.
Humayun Kabir, general secretary of the shop owners' association at the market, said city corporations should install firefighting equipment in markets as they collect revenue from shop owners.
“We don't have water supply now as Dhaka Wasa has snapped our connection after the city corporation failed to clear the bills. How would we douse fire if an emergency situation arises?” he questioned.
He said shop owners were bringing in water from other sources to meet essential needs.
These correspondents did not find any fire safety equipment in six DNCC markets in Karwan Bazar.
At Gulistan Underground Market, all the five fire extinguishers were found fit.
“These [fire extinguishers] were refilled only a few days ago,” said Shahid Mollah, head of security guards. He, however, admitted that they have no training on firefighting.
Security guard Abul Hossain at Bangabazar Hawkers Market in Fulbaria said there were 54 fire extinguishers for 628 shops.
“Some 10-12 people, including me, received training from fire service officials on firefighting,” he added.
No firefighting equipment was seen at Victoria Park Market, Ladies Park Market, Sadarghat Hawkers Market, Buckland Badh Market, Dayaganj Market, Kaptanbazar Super Market, Shyambazar Market and Thatari Bazar Market.
Sheikh Shamsul Alam Bulbul, president of Dhaka Mohanagar Dokan Malik Samity, said only a few of the 44 DNCC markets have firefighting equipment.
The corporation “never encouraged shop owners about firefighting preparedness and the traders' bodies didn't feel the urgency to ensure fire safety”, he mentioned, adding that they were now in the process of installing firefighting equipment at super market-2 of Karwan Bazar.
Talking to the Daily Star, Prof ABM Badruzzaman of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology said every market should keep its walking space and stairway clear. Besides, there should be enough exit points to save lives during fire incidents.
He said the authorities should follow the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) for construction of markets and industrial and commercial buildings.
There should be overhead and reserve water tanks to fight fire for a certain period. All commercial buildings should have fire extinguishers and hosepipes, added Badruzzaman.
Maj AKM Shakil Newaz, director (operations and maintenance) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said there should be a hydrant system in every market in line with the BNBC.
The markets should also have sprinklers, hosepipes, fire extinguishers, smoke and heat detectors and trained firefighting teams, he observed.
Khan Mohmmad Billal, chief executive officer of DSCC, said they requested different traders' bodies to take necessary steps to ensure fire safety.
“It's the duty of Fire Service and Civil Defence to take action against any market authorities who did not set up firefighting equipment,” he said.
For maintenance and repair of shops, traders need to shift their goods.
“We offer traders space for temporary relocation, but they want shops of same size in advantageous positions which we cannot provide them with,” said DNCC CEO Mesbahul Islam.
It would be easy for the city corporation to address safety issues if the traders cooperate with it, he added.
DNCC Mayor Annisul Huq yesterday said on several occasions they had asked the committee of Gulshan Kitchen Market (South) to take necessary measures to ensure safety, but the suggestion fell on deaf ears.
The mayor was addressing a press conference at the DNCC's Gulshan office.
Showing photographs of 12 dilapidated DNCC market buildings, Annisul said those were not only vulnerable to collapse, but also to fire.
Members of the 12 market committees were present.