A five-hour blaze at a central petrol station in Ha Noi last week underlined the hazards at hundreds of other filling stations in the capital. Viet Nam News reporters Quynh Anh and Khanh Van tried to come to grips with the problem.
A week has passed since the big fire in Tran Hung Dao Street that injured 10 of the 1,000 firemen sent to fight it and caused damage of more than VND10 billion (US$476,000). Have you identified the cause of the fire?
Nguyen Van Son, Deputy Director of the Ha Noi Fire Fighting Department
|Nguyen Van Son
According to the evidence we've got so far, the fire was caused by petrol leaking as it was being piped into underground storage tanks from the petrol truck. The fuel flowed to a house nearby through a water drain and exploded when it touched a charcoal fuel stove. We are still waiting for the final results.
The media has produced reports suggesting that many petrol stations in the city are similarly unsafe, meaning that they are situated next to busy neighbourhoods. There are often no safety barriers. How do you justify this?
Son: There were about 500 petrol stations in the capital city when its administrative boundary was expanded in 2008. About 114 are located in the inner city. Under fire-fighting regulations, all petrol stations are required to meet certain requirements, including being equipped with fire extinguishers, having fire-fighting forces as well as fire-fighting plans. All petrol station workers must also have basic fire-fighting and prevention skills.
Many petrol stations were built 20 to 30 years ago, but they fail to meet the current regulations. They are required to be upgraded or face being forced to move out of the city or closed.
It is clear that the urbanisation process that has triggered the development of new buildings, houses and roads threatens safety at petrol stations.
According to city planning, many petrol stations will make way for infrastructure development or because they have failed to meet fire safety regulations. The department is working with agencies to inspect the upgrading of 52. If they meet regulations, they will be licensed to continue.
Regular inspections by the department show that the most common violations of fire safety regulations are the failure to fix broken fire-fighting equipment, train workers or keep exits open.
Vo Van Quyen, director of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Market Department
|Vo Van Quyen
Under the current legislation on management of petrol stations, their location comes under the planning of People's Committees. Prime Ministerial Decision 84/2009/ND-CP also declares that a petrol station must comply with fire safety rules.
The latest standard on building petrol stations issued in 2010 allows them to be built near people's houses if a 2.2m wall is built as a barrier. Petrol stations built before 2010 need to be upgraded to meet the standards. So the relevant legal framework is generally sufficient.
Many petrol stations were built before the laws were introduced. If they are closed or moved, it would cause a big disruption in the petrol supply chain. In addition, the land resources in big cities are now scarce and expensive, making it hard to relocate. Rearranging the network will take time, a lot of time.
How then are we going to address the fire hazards?
Son: The department is working with the municipal Department of Industry and Trade to carry out regular and random inspections to make sure they meet fire-safety regulations. Regular inspection will be made every three months, six months or once a year, while random inspections will be carried out at high-risk stations.
Nevertheless, it is still the main responsibility of petrol stations investors and owners to ensure safety. The number of fire fighters of the department is limited, meaning that it will be impossible to inspect all stations.
The department has also given out information to raise petrol station staff awareness of fire. We help train workers at petrol stations and anyone who ignore safety regulations.
Quyen: The fire on Tran Hung Dao Street was rare and we are investigating it thoroughly to prevent similar incidents. After hearing of the fire, the ministry sent out an urgent dispatch asking agencies to run a complete check on stations.
Bui Thi An, representing Ha Noi electorate in the National Assembly
|Bui Thi An
A fire of the size of the one last week is quite rare. I think local authorities are partly to blame and the station's managers, who obliviously failed to comply with safety regulations. The immediate revelations were the loose management of local authorities over the operation of petrol stations as well as the low level of punishment.
From a bigger perspective, it is a manifestation of the loopholes of the current city planning. Many petrol stations do not appear to fit in with local planning. This has resulted in stations being built in close proximity to crowded residential areas, hospitals, schools and restaurants.
I believe we have to run a comprehensive check at all stations to detect those which fail to comply with safety regulations. Then we have to be strict, closing down those that do not meet requirements.
In the long run, the petrol station network should be arranged more efficiently. It is high time Ha Noi did its planning in a way that meets new challenges.
This would be no mean feat, but I believe as long as we have strong political commitment, we will be able to do that. Once local authorities come up with the planning, they should be determined to implement it, particularly when they face the very likely opposition from station owners and some of the public. — VNS