By Ignacio R. Bunye
Images of the burning Resorts World Hotel and the Grenfell Tower (in London) are grim reminders of one of the constant horrors we face today.
In the case of Resorts World, three cabinet members who had a late dinner at the casino hotel just missed becoming part of the statistics by a couple of hours.
As a routine procedure, fire authorities conduct an investigation of such incidents and come up with recommendations to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.
A study of the worst fires in the Philippines reveal that tragedies are aggravated by inadequate fire exits. Overcrowding in public buildings adds to form a deadly combination.
Both factors, incidentally, were present in the Ozone disco fire in Quezon City which killed 161 teenage party-goers 21 years ago.
At the time of the accident, Ozone, which had a normal capacity of 100 patrons had three times the number of occupants. Worse, the club’s main door opened inward and was effectively shut close when the disco goers tried to get out.
In one factory fire, investigators discovered that exits were closed during work hours to discourage/prevent pilferage of raw materials.
In a residential fire which killed the daughter of a prominent politician, escape from the second floor was cut off because of iron grills which covered the windows.
One can never be totally prepared for a fire. But here are some suggestions that may help mitigate the effects of a fire.
The most common suggestion is to be aware of the location of fire exits. It is noteworthy to mention that at start of any public function at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the program host normally announces the location of various exits which could be used in case of emergency. It is also standard procedure now for cinemas to show video clips of proper exit procedures to prevent stampede. Even in planes, flight attendants call attention to the exits nearest the passengers.
But how do you exit from a mega tall building like the 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai? The Burj Khalifa accommodates 35,000 at any given time.
While browsing on television, I came across this interesting fact. The building’s evacuation plan does not entail exiting from the building during a fire. Instead, the occupants are supposed to proceed to emergency fire-proof shelters which are built every 25th floors. The occupants are supposed to ride out the emergency inside these shelters.
Carpets such was those which adorned Resorts World are very flammable materials and they emit a lot of smoke.
In the case of the recent Grenfell Tower blaze in London, fire authorities blamed another culprit for the swift spread of the fire and the deadly volume of smoke – “flammable alumminum composite cladding that lined the exterior concrete walls.”
Aware that just as many die from smoke inhalation as from burns, the DOH has issued these guidelines.
DOH spokesman Eric Tayag said when people see smoke or fire, they should immediately leave the affected premises.
A wet cloth, if available, can be used to cover the mouth to avoid inhaling smoke.
A tip, taught to us when we were boy scouts, was to crawl on all fours in a smoke-filled room to lessen inhalation of the deadly fumes which tend to rise above the floor. It might work where there are few people. Whether that is the practical thing to do where several others are rushing towards the exit is another question.
Monsignor Ernesto Espiridion, retired chaplain of the Bureau of Corrections, once gave me this advice:
“The best way to prepare for emergencies is to prepare yourself spiritually. Before going to bed, always say your act of contrition.”
“Always be prepared to meet the Lord,” Monsi told me with a wink and a thumbs up.
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