Fire with no escape.

Fire with no escape.

I was shocked when I read the news about the fire in a mini apartment building in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi. Dozens of people died, including many children. A disaster.

The direct cause will be investigated by the authorities. But with the numbers initially determined: 45 apartments and 150 people “crammed” into a 10-story house on a plot of only 200 m2 located in a narrow alley, as a long-time worker in the construction industry like me can affirm: this building cannot meet the construction and fire prevention standards.

I shared this heartbreaking story with my Korean friend – the CEO of a real estate company, he was shocked. Last month, he just “struggled” with the fire prevention acceptance process for an apartment project, even though he fully complied with the design documents and implemented the approval. Because “the speed of changing fire prevention standards in Vietnam is faster than the speed of construction, so construction according to the correct design may still not be accepted according to new standards”, he explained and further commented: “Vietnam’s fire prevention standards are stricter than Korea’s”. Therefore, he was amazed when watching photos, videos recording the scene of the fire.

When standards are very strict but fires still occur frequently, causing great damage to life and property, then the issue to consider is the management method of this field.

Fire prevention standards in Vietnam are generally strict, and especially strict with apartment types. My colleagues and I have often regretted over-investment (to comply with regulations) when observing the fire prevention system with this type of house. For example, last week, I counted up to 3 sprinklers (automatic fire extinguishing water spray heads) in a space of only 20 m2 of a social housing apartment with an area of ​​50m2 – an extravagance to waste. Meanwhile, two other types are tube houses and mini apartments (which can also be considered a type of tube house) have not been fully controlled and strictly controlled.

Fires in tube houses, according to my observation and statistics, originate from several reasons.

Firstly, due to “fire source”: electrical faults and vehicle fires. The majority of tube houses are self-built by private owners so the power supply system is designed and constructed arbitrarily which is very easy to short circuit, catch fire. In addition, the model of ground floor for motorcycles, cars and upper floors for living poses a great risk. A vehicle on fire or a fire spreading into vehicles from below will create a large amount of smoke that fills the exit, causing suffocation for people living upstairs.

Secondly, because this is a form of individual ownership, state management agencies are “reluctant” to touch. We often joke with each other that business investors “have hair”, easy to grab, while individuals “bald”, rarely touched. I used to live in both apartment buildings and tube houses and saw that every year in apartments we were “forced” to check fire prevention while tube houses were rarely asked.

Thirdly, due to the system of reporting, treating and escaping when on fire. No matter how well prevented, we cannot reduce the rate of fire sources to 0. The problem is when a fire occurs, how to minimize damage, especially human damage. More than 90% of tube houses do not have an automatic fire alarm and firefighting system. When risks occur, all people can do is rely on their own legs, run fast to escape danger. But at the model of tube houses, especially mini apartments, emergency stairs are also places that suck smoke, while other exits such as balconies and loggias have been sealed off to prevent theft.

In other words, when there is a fire it is almost impossible to escape.

In 2008, I watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire and saw clearly the downside of urban development. Hanoi at that time almost had no slum-like dwellings. But then the inner city gradually became crowded and cramped, and if not stricter in management, high-rise houses that do not guarantee minimum living conditions will appear. At that time, life or death in a fire would only depend on luck.

Nguyễn Hoàng Nam

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Fire with no escape.

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