If there’s a fire, students are helpless when trapped in a dormitory with no escape

If there's a fire, students are helpless when trapped in a dormitory with no escape

The path to Huy’s dormitory is only about 1m wide and 30m deep, the basement is packed with dozens of motorcycles.

Huy thought to himself, if there was a fire, he wouldn’t be able to escape.

If there’s a fire, I don’t know where to run.

Following the news of the mini apartment fire at alley 29/70 Khương Hạ (Khương Đình ward, Thanh Xuân district, Hanoi city) on the night of September 12th, Huy – a student at Gia Dinh University – felt sorry for the unfortunate victims.

Looking back at his dorm room, Huy shuddered. His room is less than 10m2, without windows, the hallway is blocked by concrete walls surrounding it, with only one staircase as an exit.

“Sometimes I think, if there’s a fire, I don’t know where to run,” said Huy. The only entrance and exit is narrow and deep for dozens of residents in the dormitory where Huy lives. The dormitory is designed to be sealed off, making it difficult to handle in case of fire or explosion.

Huy’s dormitory is located in Go Vap district with a tube house. The facade is rented for business so the entrance to the dormitory can only fit one person if riding a motorcycle.

On the ground floor, the landlord rents it out as a beverage shop and a basement for parking. From the 1st to the 5th floor are rented out to families and students. The rooftop is used for drying clothes.

“Each floor will have 1 large family room and 2 small rooms for students to rent. The whole building has about 15 rooms, each room from 2-5 people. The building is surrounded by concrete walls,” Huy shared.

Realizing the instability but Huy had no choice because he had signed a long-term contract with the landlord, if he moved early he would lose 6 million VND deposit.

Similarly, Nhat also rents near Ho Chi Minh City Open University for convenience, but being close to the center makes it difficult to ensure fire prevention due to narrow area. The rent is 4 million VND/month for a room less than 12m2.

“In urban areas, most dormitories are not guaranteed in case of incidents. So even if you want to find a better place it’s hard. Students do not have enough economic conditions so they have to endure,” Nhat said.

Having witnessed a fire in the basement of a dormitory 4 years ago, Thanh Huyen – living in a small alley on Trung Kinh street (Hanoi) – recalled that she was studying when she saw thick smoke rising above her room.

Huyen quickly ran downstairs to see what happened and was told by the security guard that there was an incident in the bicycle area with electric bicycles and it had been handled. After that, this dormitory does not allow electric bicycles and motorcycles to be charged here anymore.

“At that time I didn’t think much. My brother had to charge his electric bicycle at work because the apartment didn’t allow charging anymore. Reading information about recent fires, I was startled. My apartment was still lucky because the security guard handled the incident in time,” Huyen said.

The fire that occurred at the mini apartment on Khương Hạ Street, Thanh Xuân District, Hanoi City on September 12th is a warning to many mini apartments, dormitories, and boarding houses about compliance with fire prevention regulations. According to the leaders of Ho Chi Minh City Police, there are more than 42,000 boarding houses and mini apartment-style dormitories in the city.

Pham Mai – a student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi – is worried and uneasy but doesn’t know what to do.

Mai’s dormitory is in a small alley on Quan Nhân Street, about 200m from the main road. If there’s a fire, fire trucks wouldn’t be able to reach it.

A common observation in many dormitory areas in downtown Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is that the dormitories are built close together, separated by walls. On the ground floor, motorcycles fill the hallway. If a fire occurs in the parking area, it’s certain that the fire will spread quickly with unpredictable consequences.

Students are unclear about how to escape in case of a fire

Ms. Hoang Huyen – a lecturer in communication at a university in Ho Chi Minh City – shares her concerns about students being unclear about how to escape in case of a fire. Even worse, many students are indifferent because they think that fire incidents are unrelated to them.

“After the recent incident of a fire in a mini apartment building, I spent time talking to students about survival skills and communication stories. Worryingly, many students are indifferent because they think ‘the fire will spare me’, and have not learned necessary escape skills,” Ms. Huyen shared.

According to the lecturer, fires can occur anywhere, anytime, especially when fires occur in high-rise buildings, densely populated areas, student dormitories… Therefore, students need to grasp emergency escape skills as they are crucial for survival.

According to the Fire Police Department of Ho Chi Minh City Police (PC07), Ho Chi Minh City has a high concentration of workers and students who come to work and study, so the demand for renting dormitories in rental houses and mini apartments is common.

However, ensuring safety in terms of fire prevention for these types is not really cared for by landlords and renters. Meanwhile, types like boarding houses, dorm rooms, mini apartments… have relatively high risks of fires and explosions.

Ho Chi Minh City Police also issued warnings to landlords and renters about fire safety measures for mini apartments, boarding houses, and dorm rooms.

*** Ho Chi Minh City Police’s note on fire prevention and fighting in mini apartments, boarding houses, and dormitories:

Management boards and landlords need to strictly implement fire prevention regulations when constructing and doing business such as design approval, fire prevention acceptance, installation of systems, means, fire prevention equipment to ensure compliance.

Fire prevention equipment and rescue equipment that have been equipped need to be periodically inspected to ensure effective operation. The electrical system in dormitories and mini apartments needs to be installed and used safely and regularly checked for replacement, remedying potential electrical safety risks that can cause fires or explosions.

Cooking, worshiping, burning joss paper, charging for bicycles, electric motorcycles, electrical appliances, especially in basements, parking areas… need to have strict regulations.

Management boards and landlords need to strictly prohibit the use of mini gas cylinders that have been used many times without ensuring fire safety; organize training in skills and how to use fire prevention equipment for managers, security guards and renters.

Residents and renters need to participate in regular fire drills to know how to respond and evacuate in emergencies. Units need to provide fire safety instructions for all residents, renters, post fire prevention rules, fire orders, escape plans…

Safe exits need to ensure easy access for all residents and renters; do not install “tiger cages” blocking escape routes.

Escape routes are not blocked or obstructed by objects or furniture. Emergency communication devices such as loudspeakers, fire alarms… need to be arranged to notify all residents in case of an incident.

Residents and renters need to regularly check and maintain the electrical system and electrical equipment periodically to avoid the risk of electrical fires or short circuits. Charging for battery-powered vehicles needs to be tightly managed, not charged overnight when the device cannot be controlled.

Residents do not burn incense or candles when going to sleep or leaving the house and regularly check the gas system, heat sources when cooking. If going out for other work, people need to completely turn off the fire.

At the same time, law enforcement agencies advise people not to use mini gas cylinders that have been used many times without ensuring fire safety. This is also the cause of many fires in dormitories and boarding houses.

People need to learn about fire safety knowledge and equip themselves with appropriate fire-fighting tools and escape tools according to the architecture of their place. The key to unlock the dormitory room or apartment must be placed where it is easy to get and popularized so that all family members know…

The second escape route needs to be studied, utilized, arranged at windows, roofs, balconies or equipped with suitable demolition tools according to the characteristics of their place to demolish emergency escape routes in case of a fire.

Families need to organize simulated firefighting plans and escape plans to practice responding when a fire or explosion occurs. People also need to promptly report to the management of mini apartments, dormitories about potential fire safety risks that can cause fires or explosions.

Huyên Nguyễn

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