FR Tower Fire: The Red Flags that shouldn’t have been ignored

The Faruque-Rupayan Tower aka FR tower is a noticeable high rise building in Banani. Being constructed a long time ago, this building has sold their space to several corporate offices and restaurants. And so, it was normal that a good number of people would be in this building for work or recreational purposes.

However, the fire at the same FR Tower on Thursday, around 12.45 PM opened our eyes to a few major issues it was hiding all this time. As of today, 24 people have died and almost 100 others were injured, all because the owners didn’t care to give attention to safety guidelines or the Bangladesh building codes.

Illegal extensions and the first red flag

The FR tower builders first submitted its plan to Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) in 1995 and again in 2005. But what they left out is the fact that there was a four-floor extension. Although they got the approval to make this building 18-storey high, it was made to be of 22 floors with no following of safety regulations. And just like the recent fire, FR tower had also caught fire almost a decade ago. Even if this wasn’t enough to make the authorities conscious about its constructional defects, the floor extension apparently did come to the attention of RAJUK in 2007. But because proper action was not taken against anyone, this remained an issue for later. This was the first red flag, something that could have easily been stopped but wasn’t.

Lacking safety measures

In 2003, the Fire Prevention and Extinguishing act urged all high-rise buildings to send them a report within half a year of its announcement. The mighty Faruque-Rupayan Tower was one of them. But when the fire started last week, the iron fire exits were locked. This building had no sprinklers either. And the sad thing is, even if the fire exits were open, not all of the people in this building would be able to get out safely. Being only 0.6 metres and 1.2 metres in width, the only two fire exits there were in this 22-storey building wouldn’t have been enough to get everyone out safely.

“These incidents really don’t surprise you anymore. And the thing is, these don’t apply just for big buildings like this”

Said Marzan Kamal (Name has been changed) when asked about her opinion

She explained how the fire exits are always locked at most high-rise buildings nowadays.

And no one usually checks them until something bad happens.

After the incident, the fire department mentioned that the FR tower authorities were asked to join seminars on safety rules and recommended to work on safety measures surrounding the building. But they did not pay much attention to it. They also did not have their safety license, something that RAJUK needed to take care of right away.

It’s never too late to be safe

From the floor extension to not implementing safety guidelines to an overall poor construction of the building, there were countless red flags that the FR tower already had. But sadly, it isn’t until innocent people die a horrendous death that they actually start taking legal action. It is crucial for everyone keep their building’s fire safety measures in check. Just like this terrible incident, we shouldn’t wait till the damage has been done to be conscious.

Fire Safety 101- What to do if you’re ever in a fire

As we carry out our day-to-day activities, we take umpteen precautions to ensure our safety. We wear seatbelts when traveling, baby proof our homes and lock our windows and doors at night for safety. However, when it comes to battling against emergencies such as fire, we often fail to see the bigger picture. With failure of concerned authorities, a lack of awareness among the public and inadequate safety measures, the fire accidents have tripled in number within the last two decades in our country.

Thus, fire safety has become more important than ever. Let us see what we can do to avoid such tragedies.

Plan ahead

Families and offices must have a well-rehearsed emergency escape plan sorted out. Make a checklist that not only includes a list of necessities but also the list of helpful phone numbers available in the area to call as soon as an emergency fire situation arises.

Papers and valuables

Since the fire can take place any time, it is wise to keep copies of all your important documents. Along with these important documents, storing photographs and other valuables, which hold special sentiments, may also be useful.

Fire safety at workplace

When Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense (BFSCD) carried out a yearlong inspection, the results frightened us.Less than hundred establishments had tisfactory fire-safety initiatives out of the inspected 2612 establishments.

The alarming statistics show the urgency to ensure a workplace with extensive fire safety measures. This starts with eliminating all workplace hazards such as damaged electrical outlets, cables and cords as well as overloaded circuits. Smoke detectors, fire sprinkler systems, multiple fire extinguishers and help for disabled and older employees must be installed in every floor of the office. Employees must know about emergency exit routes, fire safety training, emergency procedures and using fire extinguishers. Regular fire drills are another way to prepare employees better. Smoking should take place outdoors only and cigarettes should be extinguished properly in sand-filled cans. It is also of utmost importance to instil confidence in employees to stay calm and not panic in case of fire emergencies; rather, everyone should deal with the situation by working together calmly.

House fires

A house fire can rapidly spread and prove to be deadly. To avoid this, it is important to install smoke detectors/alarms in the house and constantly check that they are in working order. Never smoke near curtains, sofas or other fabrics. Adults must also instruct kids to stay away from lighters, candles or matches, educate them about fire safety and teach them about the escape routes. Be extra astute when cooking, maintaining distance from fire. Moreover, switch off all electrical and heating equipment when not in use to avoid accidents.

A two-week workshop on ‘Fire Safety in Buildings’ was arranged last month (February,2019) for professors of BUET by the department of architecture. Similar such sessions, workshops and seminars should be arranged at residential buildings, universities and workplaces to increase awareness, educate people about fire safety and to equip them with necessary knowledge for emergencies.

Let us take these little steps and do our part to prepare ourselves before or during a fire and ensure our safety. In a country where we head out of our houses everyday not knowing if we will be able to return alive, is it not better to be safe than to be sorry?

As a woman who has never had to commute by bus, I am scared

If you don’t know already, Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury, a student of Bangladesh University of Professionals, was run over by a bus near Jamuna Future Park on Tuesday,19th March 2019. His ID card, covered in blood, was the first thing I saw when I came across this news. Apparently, this young man was crossing the road using the zebra crossing when he was hit and run over by a Suprobhat Paribahan bus. Yes, it’s happening again. After only 7 months of the heroic student protest demanding road safety, the same thing is happening again. If you aren’t shocked or surprised, you probably understand why.

“One hand, I feel extremely sad and angry. On the other hand, I just feel helpless because nothing has really changed,”

Said Nabil Ahmed when asked about today’s incident.

As a student myself, I was privileged enough to have a car for commute. More importantly, I was privileged to live very close to my university. So as someone who never really took a bus to travel somewhere, I cannot relate. As someone who took a rickshaw only to go from Kafrul to Mirpur 11, I do not know much about the roads of Dhaka.

However, as someone who always makes sure to use the zebra crossing even when it’s easier to cross without it, I am absolutely terrified.

As someone who looks both ways even when crossing a one-way street, I am frightened. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where pedestrians literally run to cross a street without looking left or right. And even if I were a conscious driver following every rule in the book, I wouldn’t have been able to save them from harm. But then, there are times when they die despite using the zebra crossing. There are times when they die despite being motionless people in a bus stop.

“I think this proves that even if pedestrians are aware of the rules, these accidents can and are still happening because of reckless drivers.”

Said Nima Mahal

So, to think that one might potentially die despite following the rules, to think one might die merely by existing on the streets of Dhaka is, in a word, terrifying.

I wanted to write an enormous section about traffic rules in other countries and its implementation, but what is the point really? What is the point of talking about law enforcement in a country that will stick to every bad thing in the world rather than embracing the good? What is the point of talking about following the laws when it isn’t the laws itself that are the issue, but the fact that they were never taken seriously?

And after today, what is the point of talking about traffic regulations in a country where drivers are as careless as commuters?

“Changes can come if tried. Our country has changed for the better in a lot of ways so why not this?”

Said Minhaz Shafi when asked about our governing system.

And it’s true. Many people have seen bikers wearing helmets and noticed the presence of traffic police in certain places. But that’s probably where it ended.

Afrin Zaman, a student who rides the bus to reach university told me about an accident she was recently in. “It was one of those bus racing incidents where a random bus driver starts driving rashly. No one died but a friend had to be taken to the hospital as a small shard of glass impacted a side of her body. It was scary,” said Zaman as she further mentioned how cheap and accessible the bus system is in Bangladesh. “I’ve always felt that the bus system was so easily accessible! The helpers also helped me get off on the road but despite all this, the risk is seriously undeniable,” added Zaman.

As a believer in change, I am hopeful change will come.

But as a realistic citizen of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, I just feel sad.

Before writing this, I took time to read every news article I could find surrounding this incident. As of today, Mayor Atiqul Islam has pledged to build a foot over bridge named after Abrar, the victim, along with vowing to take action against the murderers. And to me, the actions said to be taken seemed fairly promising.

But then again, if you were in a country that faced the gruesome murder of two students, followed by a ground-breaking protest, maybe some reformation just to have the same thing happen the same way only 7 months later, how hopeful would you be?

*Names have been changed so to keep individuals’ identity anonymous.