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Tube houses, old buildings are fire hazards

Update: June, 22/2015 - 08:51
Meanwhile, to prevent thieves from breaking into homes, owners install iron bars on the balconies, closing off a possible emergency route. — File Photo

HA NOI (VNS) — Most people living in old apartment buildings and the so-called "tube houses" lack basic fire prevention knowledge, including the need for emergency exits, officials say.

This assessment by the capital city's firefighting forces came after a recent fire killed five members of a family living in a "tube house." Tube houses are tall, thin buildings built on land with very narrow width.

The five people died because they could not escape from the burning house, which had only one main exit. This also meant that people from outside could not enter the locked house.

Colonel Nguyen Van Son, deputy director of the Ha Noi firefighting division, said firefighting and rescue work were very difficult in tube houses built on small lanes and streets.

They stand very close to each other and have no emergency exits, he added.

Achitects have suggested that tube houses are designed with front balconies that can be used as an emergency exits, but even then, many such houses lend their balconies to advertising agencies to put up large hoardings that prevent escape from fires.

Meanwhile, to prevent thieves from breaking into homes, owners install iron bars on the balconies, closing off a possible emergency route.

Besides, in many houses, the first floor is used like a warehouse, which makes escape difficult.

In old-style residential blocks, the risks of fire come from coal stoves and the burning of votive paper. Gas cylinders in apartments are also big fire risks, officials said.

They said most households have no escape plan chalked out for emergencies like fire. They are not even aware of the need for such plans, so they do not have fire-extinguishing tools or the knowledge needed to escape from a burning building.

The firefighting division advises that people living in the tube houses equip themselves with anti-smoke masks as well as robe ladders.

Choppers for firefighting

Colonel Son said at a press conference last week that Ha Noi planned to buy helicopters for firefighting and other rescue operations, but did not give a time-frame for the purchase.

He said the helicopters were necessary to deal with severe fires that have been occurring very often, causing great damage, including high human casualties.

"Helicopters are very expensive, so it is necessary to consider many factors before purchasing them," Son said.

He said that following a recent decision taken by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, three major fire prevention and fighting centers will be set up in the north, centre, and south of the country.

These centres will be provided with helicopters, he said.

Son said a total of 84 fires and one explosion have occurred in the capital city since early this year, killing 7, injuring 11, and causing damage estimated at VND13 billion (roughly US$600,000).

Two years ago, the Ministry of Public Security had asked the Ha Noi Department of Fire Prevention and Fighting to study the feasibility of buying and using helicopters for firefighting and other rescue work.

Experts have warned integrating the use of helicopters with other firefighting infrastructure and logistics could prove to be a major challenge.

They have also stressed the need to focus on prevention, given that most fires are caused by faulty electric circuits and gas leaks. Nearly 60 per cent of the fires occur in highly populated residential areas, studies have shown. — VNS

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