After yesterday’s fire at the FICO building in Bangkok, fire investigators are already blaming the building’s inadequate sprinkler system that contributed to the fire spreading so quickly from the 7th floor to higher floors. The fire department also blamed problems with the narrowness of the street, which caused difficulties getting fire trucks to the scene and then, when they got to the FICO building, not having a crane that reached beyond the first few floors.
This, unfortunately, is the state of Bangkok’s fire department. While the firefighters do their best to get fires under control, their equipment is out-dated and useless if a fire is above the first few floors. With so many high-rise buildings in Bangkok, that’s worrying indeed.
Several years ago, I worked for an international company on the 23rd floor of a building in the Asok area of Bangkok, and I worried often about fire safety issues. While the building did have one large ‘fire exit’ stairwell that ran from the building’s top floor down to the ground, with only one main fire exit, sprinklers that were barely there, and maintenance often being done by people not qualified to do it, it was amazing to me that the building and all its workers were still standing and breathing.
I’ve seen that scenario repeated in high-rise buildings all over Bangkok, where fire safety seems to be minimal at best, and non-existent at worst.
Even the high-rise building I live in up in the northern area of Bangkok, I would not classify as ‘safe’. One very narrow staircase is the ‘fire exit’, with that actually blocked off on the third floor much of the time, due to it being locked to prevent access to a private area. If my building ever went up in flames, the management had better be quick unlocking that third floor door, or many people in the building wouldn’t survive — Thai and Farang.
In fact, as Bangkok continues to talk about itself as a world-class city, (it’s not, but it is trying to be), it’s about time the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration started to clamp down on buildings like the FICO building, those with poor fire safety or inadequate sprinkler systems.
All it would take would be one major fire on a lower floor in a high-rise in Bangkok, and several thousand Thais would no longer be here. After all, Bangkok’s fire department, with its too-short cranes, too-short fire hoses, and other inadequate equipment wouldn’t stand a chance.