Cities lack fire alarms, evacuation plans
Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers about their experiences in dealing with fires, fire prevention and response work in their countries.
Despite efforts to reduce the number of children drowning in Viet Nam, marked by the launching of a national campaign in 2008 by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the situation is still tragic.
Nearly 200 children drowned in Viet Nam over the past two months, an increase of 6 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to the ministry's statistics.
Recently, the United Nations Children's Fund announced that Viet Nam had the highest ratio of child drownings per 100,000 head of population in South-East Asia. The ratio was 10 times higher than in developed countries in the world.
A survey conducted by the UNICEF at a secondary school revealed that less than 10 per cent of students could swim 25m.
These figures are really alarming because Viet Nam has more than 3,000km of coastline, many lakes, ponds and rivers, and tropical weather.
In response, the ministry has launched a national programme to reduce child drownings and disabilities through water inhalation by 25 per cent by 2015.
However, the pilot introduction of swimming course at schools in some coastal provinces has been ineffective due to the lack of investment in facilities at schools.
When did you learn to swim? Is learning to swim compulsory at schools in your country? What do you think about the situation of child drownings in Viet Nam and the effort to reduce it?
How can Viet Nam reduce child drownings?
Please reply by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to this week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, May 24.
Nguyen Lucia, Vietnamese, Da Nang
I live in Viet Nam and I realise the shortcomings in its fire prevention and fighting activities. Firstly, it is due to low awareness of people about this issue. People are not educated about the severe consequences, potential risks and preventative measures against fires.
Secondly, fire fighting equipment and skills are not good enough to respond quickly when fires occur. For example, fire engines cannot reach high-rise buildings or narrow streets. That's why the number of fires in markets, high-rise buildings and forests have increased.
When I studied in Australia, they had fire alarms in every house.
In my opinion, to improve fire prevention and fighting in Viet Nam, people should be educated to raise awareness on this issue. Besides, firefighters should receive better training and be equipped with modern facilities.
Jessie Yang, Korean, Ha Noi
I live in a residential building on Ha Noi's Nguyen Chi Thanh Street where a fire occurred one morning last month. I still felt terrified thinking about it again.
I was suddenly woken early one morning by the screams ringing out from around me. I did not know what was really happening. I just opened the door. I could not see anything except smoke. I tried to run outside but couldn't see an exit so I went back to my room. I did not know what to do so I just closed the door. I dialled the number of the building's security guard but got no reply. I then used a wet towel to cover my face and wet blankets to cover the chinks in the door to prevent the smoke invading my flat.
I ran to the window and opened it to get more fresh air. From my flat on the fifth floor, I saw fire fighters coming and still did not know what was happening. I kept shouting for help.
More than one hour later, I think, fire fighters knocked on my door and took me to the ground floor with dozens of other people. They had a lamp to lead the way. An ambulance was waiting for us in case we needed emergency aid.
At that time, I saw a fire was flaring up on the second floor. Dozens of fire fighters were trying to control the fire, and it took them about four hours to put it out.
I later learnt that an electrical fault had started the fire.
The fire was extinguished but I started worrying for my safety because we did not hear any fire alarms or information from the building management board when the fire started. We only found out about the situation when it was too late to escape by ourselves. What would happen to me if I lived in a building on a narrow street where fire engine could not access? I did not dare to imagine.
Looking around, I saw no fire extinguishers in my building. This means we had nothing to protect ourselves.
Following that experience, I started applying some safety measures myself. My electricity network, electrical household appliances and gas cooker are checked regularly so that any problems can be detected early, and I have bought a small fire extinguisher for my flat.
Le Hieu, German, Halle City
I've lived in Germany for ten years, but I've never witnessed any fires.
Under German law, those responsible for a fire are subject to imprisonment from one to ten years.
I think that stricter punishment would be one of the most effective methods to prevent fires.
Moreover, insurance plays a useful tool to support people when fires occur. All the owners of residential buildings must buy insurance for their tenants.
And for individuals, they should also buy insurance for their houses and valuable belongings.
But buying insurance seems to be unfamiliar for many people in Viet Nam so they are still the ones who burden their own losses when fires occur.
While waiting for improvements to fire fighting and prevention equipment, the Government and relevant agencies should consider stricter punishment for irresponsible people who don't obey regulations on fire fighting and prevention.
They should also spread basic knowledge about preventive methods against fires in the public media. I am sure that when this information is drummed into people, they will take it on board.
Mai Nguyen, Vietnamese, Sydney
One of my friends accidentally set fire to her own room in Sydney three months ago. When she went into the kitchen to make coffee, and her blanket somehow fell from the bed onto the nearby heater. Due to the distance between the kitchen and her bedroom, she did not hear the fire alarm until the fire had spread.
The speed of the emergency services astonished us at that time. The fire brigade reached her house within five minutes after her call, and then they quickly evacuated everyone from the building and extinguished the fire within 30 minutes.
I was also moved by the way firemen and policemen dealt with the victims. They tried to console my friend who was very frightened with some funny stories. A policeman said that she could stay at their office when he realised that she had nowhere else to stay the night.
I hope Ha Noi can set up a similar fire fighting and prevention service with a fast response, well-trained, kind and helpful fire service. — VNS