Much was said about safety over the past few weeks – there was loss of life, damage to property, homelessness. The preventable nature of these incidents sparked public outcry, so we thought it was an opportune moment to sit down with one of the best men in the business of fire safety, Adil Naeem, director, Global Fire Services (GFS).
Hotel Insider: We’ve had two incidents in Male’ recently. What are your thoughts on them? What should we be doing to make our homes safer?
Adil Naeem: The recent warehouse fire was a calamity that took a woman’s life and shook the entire city. It also displaced many families and destroyed a lot of property.
This tragic incident and the T-Jetty fire have highlighted the need to implement a building code here in Male’. It should consider fire safety and I strongly believe that both government and private buildings must abide by it. That will guarantee the means of escape for workers and residents in an emergency. Property has a price but life is priceless.
Fire protection and fire-fighting systems must be installed in all government buildings to safeguard the lives of those who use them. And installation of these systems alone is not sufficient. Their service and maintenance are equally important. Then, MNDF fire and rescue services can be confident to use the systems.
In some high-rise buildings in Male’, you can see certain safety features in place. They have fire extinguishers, dry riser systems and so on. But unfortunately, the general public is not trained to use them and lacks basic safety awareness.
The way I see it, damage from the warehouse incident could have been mitigated if companies weren’t allowed to store highly flammable items in residential areas. It will be ideal if they are stored in a separate area far from residential blocks. Then, such incidents, if they were to happen, will be easier to control and handle.
And it’s very important to have a hydrant system here in Male’, which will let firemen respond more efficiently. Also, fire safety awareness is just as important.
Let me ask you a question. What would you do if you are trapped in your room when your building is on fire?
Hotel Insider: Call for help.
Adil Naeem: Yes, of course. But what would you do while you waited for help to arrive?
Here’s what you should do. You will need to close all the doors and windows. And since doors in most houses have a gap between them and the floor, you must fill that gap with a wet towel.
Also, you must bear in mind to stay close to the ground or be in a crouching position as the smoke and hot gases are lighter and will affect you if you were to stay upright.
And you must never use the lift in case of fire. Almost all lifts have that warning but sometimes people panic and use them. The real danger with this is that buildings almost always lose electricity during a fire, and with the power out, you are stuck in a lift.
That’s not a situation you’d want to find yourself in.
Always use the stairs and make sure they are never obstructed. We all know the neighbour who piles goods on these narrow staircases for “temporary storage”. This is a very dangerous practise.
Hotel Insider: That advice could save lives. By the way, we heard you were on the scene at the T-Jetty during the fire.
Adil Naeem: Yes, I was. My 25 years of experience in this field leads me to believe that the fire had occurred due to negligence. There must have been a spark, probably by a lighter, that set the whole thing off.
The thing is, the bowsers (vehicles that transport fuel) in that area don’t have adequate fire-fighting equipment. Plus, the people who drive these vehicles are not properly trained to handle a fire extinguisher.
I believe that the authorities have revoked the licenses of several vehicles since.
Hotel Insider: All right. Moving on to resorts. We’ve seen real devastation at Gili Lankanfushi for one. What do you make of it? What should properties be doing to improve their fire safety standards?
Adil Naeem: New resorts are required by law to have fire and safety measures in place before they are allowed to open up for business. Unfortunately, most properties just do the bare minimum to obtain the relevant licence.
A fire safety regulation for resorts was gazetted in 2015, and resorts need to adhere to it. The regulation demands the installation of many fire safety systems. And there’s a lot of fire fighting and protective equipment required to be on the island to be used by the resort’s fire squad.
A fire can happen anywhere, even on the best prepared of properties. Most resorts today have a fire squad – almost all our resort clients do.
Hotel Insider: All right. Can you tell us a bit about fire squads and their training?
Adil Naeem: Fire squad training is the most important one. It focusses on both offensive and defensive firefighting, performed outside and inside an enclosed structure when a fire is beyond the incipient stage.
Having a fire squad is imperative as they are your first responders in case of a fire.
We are the only company with a permit from MNDF to conduct this training. Plus, we have training bases in Lhaviyani, Baa, and soon in Addu Atoll as well. So, our clients won’t have to go too far from work to train with us.
Hotel Insider: That’s a great selling point. And speaking of training, how often do you have drills in resorts?
Adil Naeem: We try to conduct one fire drill per client per year. We create scenarios and we try to make them as realistic as possible, using makeup to simulate burns and fog machines to make rooms smoky. A person might be playing the part of an injured guest, for example, and the fire squad needs to respond appropriately to this situation. They can’t treat that person in just any ordinary way, it has to be done properly, taking into account the person’s injuries. These drills have been very successful and highlight areas for improvement.
Hotel Insider: Glad to hear that. Anything else before we part?
Adil Naeem: Since all of our trainers are ex-MNDF personnel and firefighters, it would be great if the government would allow us access to sites in crisis to assist the MNDF fire and rescue team as I am certain our help would prove invaluable in such situations.
Hotel Insider: Thanks a lot, Adil. It was great chatting with you.