This is why we have codes, and code officials.
A fire in an upscale shopping mall in Qatar has killed 19 people, including 13 children and 4 teachers from a child care center within the mall. It is reported that the sprinkler system did not function, at least one staircase collapsed, floor plans were not immediately available to firefighters, the fire alarm didn’t properly warn shoppers of the situation, and some egress routes may have been compromised. Emergency responders were unable to reach the children and teachers, and had to attempt a rescue through the roof of the building. It is shameful that such a tragedy could occur in a new building, in a country with extensive resources, possibly because of lack of codes, or lack of compliance, or lack of inspection and testing to confirm that the building was safe to occupy.
Over the next few weeks I will be working with some new members of the hardware industry in Ingersoll Rand’s Specwriter Apprentice Program. My goal is to inspire in them a passion for code compliance and a desire to do their part to make the buildings where we live, work, and visit safe. Wish me luck.
Doha News had unconfirmed reports that the top two managers of the mall had been arrested and would go to court, possibly facing charges tomorrow morning. It is understood a stairway to the childcare centre collapsed, making it harder to reach the centre. Witnesses also said at least one exit in the mall was chained shut. “We went out through a fire door that was luckily quite close to where we were and it was there that you could see the plumes of smoke coming out of the centre of the mall. Huge volumes of black smoke.” He said a friend was eating at a restaurant in the mall before seeing the smoke and went to the first fire escape that he noticed, only to find it was actually chained shut.
Too often development programs are pushed through without proper due process – a situation that Arwa unravelled with renowned mud architect Salma Samar Damluji, who sites greed as a principle driver of large scale construction projects imbued with the bigger is better mentality so common in Dubai. No expense is spared to get these colossal malls built. The same due diligence should be paid to health and safety as well.
“The answer is to improve the practices. You have the same codes in other parts of the world, but you don’t get these sorts of fires or fatalities.” He added: “It’s not just sprinklers, it is stairs, doors, direction of door openings, whether doors are locked, where you have access controls and so on.” Another expert, who asked not to be named, said a lack of maintenance in the Gulf is also prevalent. “Some of the systems you’re supposed to test every month or every two weeks, but over here they do it every three months. And if you have a fault in one of the systems they don’t fix it straight away. I assume this is because there are no heavy fines from the authorities for these issues, and they don’t have the insurance companies enforcing these requirements.”
The tragedy also is likely to push authorities across the Gulf to further examine fire safety rules in a region where the drive to build fast and big has brought concerns about the level of emergency planning. Rescue crews in Qatar’s capital Doha had to hack through the roof of the mammoth Villaggio mall to reach the child care facility, where the victims included 2-year-old New Zealand triplets and three Spanish siblings. Two firefighters also were killed.
The government has set up a committee to investigate “the causes and circumstances” of the blaze, QNA said Monday night. It is also investigating complaints that sprinklers and alarms weren’t working at the mall when the blaze broke out. Christine Wigton, an American living in Doha, told CNN she heard “a buzzer, not very loud” as she walked into the mall, but heard no loud alarms as smoke built up inside. Elementary school-age children were eating at some of the restaurants and no one was trying to escape, she said. “There were no sprinklers, and there was nothing that would tell somebody that something was wrong,” she said.
Abdel Khaleq al-Huwari, one of dozens of firemen who responded to the blaze, told AFP that the rescue teams were not informed of the existence of a nursery in the mall “until half an hour after” they arrived on the scene. Huwari was one of the first in the nursery after the fire had died down and said he found his Moroccan colleague, Husam Shahboun, lying dead on the floor “holding two children in his arms.” “The nursery is difficult to find and it has no emergency exits.” Another firefighter, Amran Mohsen, told AFP that “some of the fire alarms were not working.” Mohsen, who described Shahboun as “a leader to us”, said that all of the children in the nursery had died – “five in the ambulance, three at the hospital and the rest right at the spot.”