Burnt Buildings Failed Fire Safety

fire safety sign

The engineering design of a luxury shopping mall in Qatar at which 19 people including 13 children were killed in a deadly fire last month did not comply with laws and measures regarding safety and firefighting, the committee in charge of investigating the fire has found.

In a damming statement, the committee says the May 28 fire at the Villagio Shopping Mall in Doha, Qatar, started in the mezzanine at a Nike sportswear store inside the complex and was caused by faulty electric wiring in a fluorescent light, which led to the ignition of its plastic components before spreading to other flammable goods.

The committee says there were no effective plans at the centre to manage any fire incident, there was a lack of response among the mall’s security team and that coordination between government agencies responsible for public safety in buildings in Qatar was poor.

“The committee found a status of lack of adherence to laws, systems, and measure by all concerned parties to different degree,” the statement reads. “This includes adherence to design, license, and safety conditions, which contributed to Villagio catastrophe.”

In its report, the committee says it found deficiencies in three key areas.

First, there was the above-mentioned lack of adherence to laws and systems regarding design, licensing and safety. A “Gympanzee” shop within the centre was not licensed as a nursery by the Ministry of Social Affairs and thus did not comply with the necessary safety conditions. Also, the committee was unable to confirm the presence of fire sprinklers in the Nike store where the fire started.

Second, there were no effective plans in place at the complex designed to prevent, contain, or at least reduce the effects of a major fire incident. For example, there was no early warning detection system in the commercial complex.

Finally, on a broader level, the committee found a lack of coordination between government agencies responsible for public safety. This spreads beyond deficiencies in fire standards with regard to Villagio and extends to other buildings in Qatar.

“[Major buildings in Qatar] are not adhering to the laws and measures regarding safety and fire-fighting,” the committee says, adding it was unable to determine the extent of the problem.

The committee has issued 11 recommendations to prevent or reduce risk of similar incidents in the future, and has called for a complete list of buildings which do not meet fire safety standards throughout the country.

Suspicions about the design and operation of the mall were raised following reports sprinkler systems in the complex failed to work properly and that a combination of heavy smoke and narrow passageways meant emergency service personnel were forced to enter the building from the roof.

By Ahn Jae Wook
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