THE fire alarm has been set off, and it is ringing in nationwide attention. Hot on the heels of the tragic death of 23 people in the fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah religious school, the Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) is pushing for the amendment of the Fire Services Act 1988 (FSA) to make it mandatory for property developers to install firefighting equipment, such as fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, if the buildings are of a certain height. This is a move in the right direction. Adopting fire safety measures that include prevention, early detection and control will go a long way in preventing loss. Fire in any premises is a major concern, especially when it is accompanied by smoke in enclosed buildings.
Fighting fires is after the fact. It is a belated move at best. Prevention is better than cure, even in fighting fires. Just consider the scale of loss in the last three years. The country lost more than 330 lives and RM9.3 billion to fire. And, only 45 per cent of the time do fire engines reach the scene of the blaze under 10 minutes after receiving the distress call. With only 284 fire stations nationwide, the FRD can only do so much.
Malaysians must help themselves, too. According to City Fire and Rescue Department chief Khirudin Drahman, most major fires are a result of people being unaware and unable to prevent them at the initial stage. The time is now for all of us to endeavour to become first responders.
But, here is where the problem starts. Many of us have an attitude problem. Like in many things, we do not pay much attention to fire safety, notwithstanding the fact that our lives and those of our loved ones are at stake. We would rather leave it to the FRD to put out the fire. This lackadaisical attitude is displayed by some of our corporate leaders, too. We so frequently hear of senior management of companies in high-rise buildings continuing their meetings while a fire drill is in progress. In fact, they issue instructions to the facility management department to inform them in advance of any fire drill so that they can be exempted. This sends out a wrong signal about fire safety to the workforce. Some Malaysians, for some strange reason, like to play the fiddle while Rome burns.
This unwelcome attitude must stop. And, it must stop now. We can only reach high altitude in fire safety if we change our attitude. The FRD statistics are enough to snap us out of our deep slumber.
As a first step, let us go out and get the fire extinguishers. While we are at it, let us also get some training on how to use the equipment. The FRD is only too willing to help. To make effective use of the limited resources of the FRD, we can marshal ourselves as a community for the training. It is time we answered FRD’s aged call for one house to have one fireman.