Farhana Rahman, Toronto
The recent fire incident at Chawkbazar in Old Dhaka shook the whole nation from its core, and compelled us to rethink about the fire safety measures in Bangladesh.
The true cause of the fire is yet to be determined and there are also discrepancies in the number of causalities; however, there is no disagreement over the dreadfulness of the fire, which burnt unfortunate individuals to death in seconds, killed pregnant women, families and youths. The exact number of people died is yet to be surfaced, but it is for sure that at least 67 men, women and children lost their life. And it is needless to say that death by burning is probably the most painful of deaths.
We do not want such incidents to happen again, but to ensure that we also need to rethink about the fire safety measures in Dhaka, especially in the older parts of it which are also the most vulnerable.
Like any recent happening, the fire tragedy also became a social media hype, and regular people started acting like fire or emergency experts. I confess that I myself also acted like a fire expert.
Some people, mainly Bangladeshi expatriates in Canada and other developed countries, compared Canadian to Bangladesh in terms of fine emergency preparedness. Many of them demanded fire hydrants to be set up in Old Dhaka city while some emphasized on fire alarm as the most effective measure of fire incidents. I personally really appreciate their concerns in the issue as well as their honest intention to do well; however, I defer to pose a different view. In my opinion, there should not be a comparison between Canada and America. What Canada can afford, Bangladesh cannot; resources Canada can avail, Bangladesh cannot.
For an instance, fire hydrant, the odd looking yellow structure so frequent on walkways all across Canada. The hydrants supply high pressure water jet to extinguish fire in emergencies, and these hydrants are so carefully maintained that parking a car directly adjacent to it is a punishable offence.
In Bangladesh, setting up fire hydrants is simply not possible, at least in near future. In Bangladesh, we still use gravity rather than high-pressure pumps to distribute water to residents. The type of infrastructural establishment needed to implant hydrants is simply not there. Our streets are too narrow, overly crowded, our water sources are not that reliable, we have too many people, too less fund, and many other causes.
Automated fire alarm for every house is also not possible to implement mostly because of our infrastructure and party for our lifestyle. Besides there are different kinds of fine and water cannot extinguish all of them.
We can still lean from Canada and other developed counties on how to tackle fire emergencies. Before, going to that discussion, I just want to express that I am not much knowledgeable in fire management, and whatever I am writing here are simply my personal views on that issue, and I can be wrong, too. Thus reader’s discretion is advised.
Bangladesh can lean from Canada’s effort to raise awareness in fire safety, and they do so in the school and colleges. Each of the provinces has its own fire safety awareness programs like ‘Lean Not To Burn’ in Ontario. As part of the program, Fire Safety Public Education Services organize presentations, workshop and lectures at school and other institutes on fire safety. The children are taught about different types of fire and how to tackle them. They also know what to do in different extent of fire emergencies. They also learn how to provide basic first aids to a burn patient.
When I was student at a school in Bangladesh, I never saw such initiative of fire awareness. I do not know whether such negligence was exclusive to my school or the tendency of carelessness still persists today, yet at least I am sure that such programs can play a pivotal role in fire incident mitigation. And such programs are feasible for even a developing country like Bangladesh.
Unlike natural disasters, which cannot be prevented, fire incidents can definitely be controlled. If we can embed the need and procedure of fire safety in the tender hearts of school children, we expect fewer number of fire incidents in the long run. Otherwise, in a country like Bangladesh, and especially in jam-packed areas like the Old Dhaka town, nothing else will work. The government has taken measures to remove all chemical depots from Old Dhaka Town but we already know that they will get back right to their places within a few months, and will continue to store extremely flammable chemicals and until or unless another tragic fire incident, and the same cycle will continue. In whatever ways, we do simply do not want to see more burning and deformed bodies, and families losing their loved ones.