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24th-Aug-2016

Fire in public places must have public accountability

By Editorial Desk

The government needs to pause to know where it is succeeding in serving the people. The self-seekers around them can only think of their personal gains. The government has not known how it is being isolated from the people because of the self-seekers.
It is not enough to say arsons are accidental happenings. The fire incidents in the city's shopping malls and at some other markets over the past few days came as a fresh reminder about the safety of life and property of shop owners, their staff and visitors at big marketplaces. But no sooner had the dust of the devastating fire at Bashundhara City market settled, two more fires struck other city markets - one at Mouchak Shopping Mall and the other at a carpet shop at Mirpur that killed one young man as he suffered from heavy smoke.
Outside the city two more fires - one at a marketplace in Gaibandha town on Monday and another at a garment factory in Chandra in the outskirt of Dhaka city on Saturday night also left the business community at severe shock. Needless to say Fire Service personnel were able to douse those fires but its cost was heartbreaking to agonizing shop owners and loss to their business stands at around taka hundred crore. Many shop owners have lost their entire investment and they don't know who will compensate them and how they will keep their business running.
What is noticeable is that open door business of the past days now becomes closed door businesses in shopping malls where they are more vulnerable to electrical accidents that end up in devastating fire. We have also more high-rise buildings in the city  — both residential and commercial with growing risk to fire and its human and material casualties. Only before the Eid-ul-Fitr seven persons were also killed at an Uttara Shopping Mall, when it caught fire and the lift did not work.  
Experts have always pointed out that all such establishments should have high tech firefighting equipment and their own trained firefighting personnel. But we know many of them don't bother much about it. For instance Gowsia Super Market or Bongo Bazar retail market have not enough firefighting equipment and the risk of devastating fire in all such places remain on quite high side. But Bashundhara has its own fire fighting system and yet some failures at some places are causing frequent fire in the sprawling mall making shop owners helpless every time.
Two committees have been set up to investigate - one by Fire Service and another by Bashundhara City management. Such committees were also set up in the past. What is important is that responsibilities must be clearly identified and market authorities must be asked to pay for the damage and loss to business. Only such action may stop recurrence of such accident.   
House Building Authorities and RAJUK should also strictly enforce compliance of standard building codes and periodic monitoring of big shopping complex and other buildings. They must see whether they have quality firefighting equipment in place and if they are properly maintained. Neglect and fake certification are often at the root cause of many big fire accidents and the reported electric short circuit at a shoe shop that originated fire at Bashundhara Shopping Mall amply suggests that use of quality electric appliance and proper monitoring could have helped to avoid the mishap. People believe that Bashundhara management can't disown the responsibility.
The fire has mainly hit the upper floors of the giant building where around 100 shops were burnt, some others totally gutted including shoe stores with new collection for Eid shoppers. The lower floors were relatively safe. But the accident came at a time when shop owners were preparing for brisk business during Eid festival. Now they see their stock destroyed and business ruined.   
The fire that struck at early shopping hours when shoppers were just gathering made crowd management easier in rescue operations to vacate the floors and save human lives. Rescue staff of the Shopping Mall and Fire Service men worked hand in hand and they deserve appreciation.
Including garment industries fire in public places like Bashundhara Shopping Complex must have public accountability if spread of arson and loss of lives and wealth has to be contained. The question has to be asked about the responsibilities of Fire Brigade for maintaining of which so much public money is spent. These specialists in fire fighting must not be available only after fire has broken out at a place. In most cases especially in Dhaka where traffic congestions are awful the Fire Brigade people arrive after the fire has already spread too far.
It is no life to live in a country where public bodies, maintained with public money, have no responsibility to the people. To prevent accidents means society is efficiently organised.