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Poorly maintained high-rises a fire risk

Update: April, 16/2012 - 09:41

High-rise buildings remain at risk of fire due to ongoing challenges in prevention and fighting. Most recently on Saturday, a fire occurred at a flat in a high-rise building in the Dinh Cong urban zone in Ha Noi, and fortunately there was no serious damage caused by the blaze. Viet Nam News reporter Khanh Van spoke with a range of people invoved with the issue.

Head of the Ha Noi Department of Fire Prevention and Fighting's Information Dissemination Office Nguyen Quang An

What are the most popular fire prevention and fighting violations still found at apartment blocks?

All buildings are equipped with fire prevention and fighting equipment such as extinguishers and alarm systems, but many go unserviced and break down, reducing their efficiency in dealing with outbreaks.

In addition, the use of power often fails to meet technical standards, causing electric leakages and fires.

Some buildings also let out space to restaurants that use gas cookers, which pose even greater risks.

The management boards of many buildings pay little attention to setting up fire prevention and fighting teams, nevermind appropriate regulations.

What challenges do fire fighters face?

The lack of human resources is a big problem. Ha Noi currently has 29 districts, but there are still only 10 fire prevention and fighting units, responsible for covering areas up to 60km away.

Training remains an additional concern with only one university in the whole country specialising in the subject.

Insufficient equipment has made matters even worse. Sixty per cent of most fire fighting vehicles is of low quality while a shortage of fire hydrants in the capital hinders prevention efforts. According to international standards, every 15km of urban road should be equipped with 100 fire hydrants, but in Viet Nam, numbers fall far short, only meeting 3 to 5 per cent of the international figure. Ha Noi alone needs an additional 5,000 hydrants, for example.

Infrastructure further fails to meet demand with electrical wires and cables lying exposed and traffic congestion making it next to impossible to access scenes, often situated in roads too small for trucks to pass through, as was the case during the twin towers of Electricity of Viet Nam fire on Cua Bac Street in Hoan Kiem District.

The longest ladder firefighters have at their disposal is 53m in height, equivalent to a 17-storey building. What happens when fires occur higher up?

Height is not the problem seeing as many countries use ladders of the same design.

It also does not mean firefighters cannot work at higher buildings.

The most important thing is that high-rise buildings of more than 28m be equipped with automatic fire prevention and fighting systems, including special elevators and pumping facilities.

Nguyen Minh Khuong, deputy head of the Fire Fighting Prevention and Control University's Department of Fire Fighting.

Why do buildings still catch fire?


Nguyen Minh Khuong
The number of buildings has increased rapidly over the past years with nearly 400 over 17-storey apartment blocks and more than 1,600 buildings of under six storeys.

High-rise buildings meet national construction standards, including firefighting and prevention requirements. However, many problems have emerged that pose the risk of fire.

Fire awareness remains low. It is clear that not every resident is trained in fire prevention and fighting, accordingly violating safety regulations on a regular basis.

Many discard flammable material haphazardly and some activate fire alarms only to entertain their babies. For example, the fire at a building in Thanh Xuan District in 2010, which killed two people, happened after a local resident threw smouldering honeycomb coal into the building's public dustbin.

In addition, fire exits are often blocked by personal possessions such as motorbikes and cars, making escape and rescue next to impossible.

Emergency exits are required to remain closed, but are often found open, making it easy for smoke to engulf whole buildings.

In many cases, people succumb to such smoke rather than fire itself.

What should people do in case of fire?

People should firstly trigger the fire alarms and use firefighting equipment to deal with small incidents. It is important to evacuate as quickly as possible, leaving all heavy and cumbersome possessions behind.

People should use soft and wet towels or cloth to cover their noses and stay as low as possible to prevent inhaling poisonous smoke.

Everyone must stay calm, moving towards the nearest emergency exits or gather on balconies to get help from rescuers.

Local residents should also join training courses where possible to equip themselves with firefighting, prevention and rescue skills.

What has the university done to counter the shortage in fire fighters?

The university has increased its training capacity to around 3,000 students each year in addition to providing courses on demand to increase human resources for this sector.

In addition, the university has co-operated with fire prevention and fighting education establishments of countries with elite and modern fire fighting forces such as Japan, the US and Russia to help improve the quality of local firefighting teams.

Local residents can also apply for the university's short course on fire prevention and fighting to equip themselves with the essential skills, which play a very important role in preventing or fighting fire when professional firefighters are unable to access or deal with fires.

Ton Nu Cam Van, N05 building resident, Trung Hoa – Nhan Chinh new urban area

For someone living in a high-rise building, do you have any concerns towards possible fire emergencies?


Ton Nu Cam Van
I like living in a high-rise, but weak fire-fighting capacity worries me. The fire at a 34-floor building in my neighbourhood a couple of weeks ago confused me even more.

I found it terrible that firefighters could not reach the 12th floor since I am currently living on the 18th.

We have been living in a 25-floor building for almost two months now, but no one has ever given us any instructions on fire prevention or what to do in case of an outbreak.

Fire alarms are also a nightmare here, probably because the building is so new. They have gone off many times just because of "technical faults". Now they are annoying us but in the future, many residents might ignore them and disasters can happen if a fire is real.

After all, we have to act for our own sake first while fire prevention is still underestimated in Viet Nam. I have always given extra care to my flat by turning off electronic devices and gas pipes before leaving or never burning offerings inside. — VNS

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