Almost every year, we see fire in one factory or the other, which often ends up killing innocent workers, forcing the rest of their family members to further plunge into poverty.
However, you cannot blame a single reason for this.
The first and foremost reason is that almost no one shows any interest in obeying fire safety rules, following the industrial building code and other rules and regulations.
The second reason is that regulatory bodies tasked with monitoring and implementing fire safety are very understaffed and remain deficient in many aspects. They do not have to be accountable for anything. They can be easily managed by certain groups of people.
These regulatory bodies, including Fire Service and Civil Defence, were established many years ago, at a time when the number of industrial and residential buildings were few. Over time, the number of industrial, as well as residential buildings has increased manifold.
However, the capacity of these regulatory bodies remains almost the same. As a result, these regulatory bodies struggle to oversee such a huge number of buildings in this sprawling city and its outskirts.
It is also true that there is no safety culture in us, in the real sense of the word. The government is busy with ensuring security, not public safety. The government is spending lots of money on the police department but the fire service and civil defence remain neglected.
For example, the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence do not have their own magistrate. As a result, they do not have the scope to punish offenders. One of the most important government agencies has been running on low manpower.
The fire service gives more importance to extinguishing fires, as opposed to developing prevention measures. As a result, there are fire-related accidents every now and then.
When a fire breaks out, the fire service units rush to the place and extinguish the fire, and only then does it become apparent that the fire service department is struggling with limited manpower. The same person is extinguishing the fire, the same person is writing the report, the same person is monitoring fire incidents.
Another important thing is that there is no coordination among the bodies in the city corporations - like Dhaka City Corporation, Rajuk and Fire Service and Civil Defence. There are no one-stop services for industrialists or ordinary people. As a result, businessmen have to go door to door to get approvals. They have to face hassles in getting those approvals. At one point, many businessmen tend to flout the rules and regulations to avoid bureaucratic hassles.
The insistence on rules and regulations of different government agencies confuses people. And ordinary people then bribe their way out of following rules and regulations.
The ruling government has improved the capacity of the Department of Fire Services and Civil Defences. However, lack of skilled manpower persists in the department because of insufficient training. They do not have enough professional, as well as technical, training. For example, some of them do not know how to make enquiries into a fire incident or how to inspect a building. There is a huge deficiency in technical training.
The government should reform the department to improve its capacity. We need to form a fire prevention wing that will monitor the whole safety situation. We have to have regular inspections and a database.
It is not just the fire service and civil defence who are responsible for preventing fire incidents. We all have to take minimum safety measures to tackle any fire incident. The Moghbazar incident is one such example.
Security guards at buildings should know how to fight fire as a first line of defense. Building owners should not be negligent towards fire safety issues, as if the lives of the poor were valueless.
Whenever a fire related tragedy happens, it is reported that the gate was shut to prevent the workers from getting out. This is because people in managerial positions give more importance to property than the safety of the people. The management of industries seem to believe that it is a waste of resources to let people out for some time.
These people must face severe repercussions for their actions.
Brigadier General (retd.) Ali Ahmed Khan is the president of Safety Awareness Foundation and former director-general of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.