Residents have ‘cry wolf’ mentality towards fire alarms

Survey suggests UAE residents are at risk of getting caught in a real fire by ignoring fire alarms?

By Kelly Clarke/staff Reporter

Published: Wed 25 Feb 2015, 12:43 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:28 PM

Dubai - With a recent survey noting as many as one in three GCC residents ignore fire alarms, are UAE residents tempting fate and running the risk of being caught in a real fire?

The survey, carried out by leading manufacturer in fire alarm, detection and evacuation systems, Honeywell, also concluded that many residents are unaware of the locations of fire exits within their buildings, which begs the question: What needs to be done to raise awareness of fire safety protection?

In light of the weekend fires in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which left 10 people dead, issues relating to fire safety have come under the spotlight.

Speaking to Khaleej Times on Monday, Honeywell’s business leader for Life Safety in the Middle East and Africa, Mark Fenton, said as a general learning, reports like Saturday’s Torch Tower fire heightens the need to create more awareness surrounding issues of fire safety.

“We know from a survey we have done (that) 30 per cent of people ignore false alarms and obviously the risk is always there that it could be a real alarm. It’s about making people more aware and helping them raise issues of uncertainty within their buildings.”

Lauding the efforts of the Dubai Police and the Dubai Civil Defence in successfully managing to get Saturday’s blaze under control, Fenton said building occupants themselves need to demand stringent safety checks. “It is important for tenants to insist on seeing that a maintenance contract is in place by the landlord.”

And if they feel the systems are not being tested regularly or the landlord is not responding to their queries, an official complaint should be filed. “Occupants can take up the issue with the Dubai Civil Defence by making a complaint through their website. Civil Defence will then go and investigate the claim,” he said.

Specific needs

The role of any fire safety system is to give as much early warning as possible if a real fire breaks out. Though the type of equipment used throughout any commercial building is similar, systems are consequently adapted to the risks associated with the needs of the type of building.

“For example, office spaces are very open plan and very visual, so you can see what is going on a lot easier, whereas residential buildings are very compartmentalised. So, if you get a difficult tower like this, you can expect to see the common areas fitted with detection systems like in lift lobbies and escapes routes.”

Typically, in high-rise apartments it is common to see detection systems fitted in hallway areas too, he said. “This is so that if there is any smoke coming in from (lift lobby or escape route) areas it is picked up from an apartment early or from the fire department directly.”

The technology being used today in most fire safety systems means companies can now distinguish between different types of possible hazards from cigarette smoke to fire smoke, or shower steam to smoke from food burning.

“The intelligence is within the device. We can minimise the risk of false alarms and differentiate between what is a real fire and what appears to be a fire, but is not. This way, we can reduce the burden of false alarms, meaning people may take warning alarms more seriously,” he said.

Dubai leads in fire safety

In this region, Dubai has one of the highest standards in terms of registering fire safety products and brands, as well as registering installers and maintenance companies. “The rules set in place here are very robust.”

And to keep on top of this good practice, Fenton said four rules should be followed. “Good technology, good system design, continued local support and regular equipment maintenance (are) ... crucial in tackling issues associated with fire safety shortfalls.”

As one of the leading suppliers of fire safety systems in the Middle East, Honeywell also conducts local training with different partners including the Dubai Civil Defence to raise awareness of the importance of fire safety.

The Honeywell survey was carried out on more than 2,600 GCC residents and found that more than half (53 per cent) of those polled were unaware of the need to test fire safety equipment, while 48 per cent had never taken part in a fire drill.

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