ROUGH CUTS| Modern fire trucks, high rise ladders already a must

AS OF last Tuesday there were already 38 dead victims of the NCCC mall fire that levelled to the ground Davao City’s only home grown superstore at crossing MacArthur Highway-Maa Road. It was a mid-morning fire that happened a day before Christmas 2017 eve.

The dead could have been more in number had it happened noon time, mid-afternoon or early evening when the Christmas shopping rush would have been on its peak. Thanks God it happened earlier. Nevertheless, it was still one tragedy that should be a cause for mourning not only of the families of the dead victims and those injured but also of the entire Davao City populace.

Clearly, the incident could have been avoided. But somehow, the fire incident had put doubts on the seriousness of the mall management in the safety measuress implemented in the mall before the tragedy. The seeming disregard of safety issues was indicated by reports that the building’s water sprinklers did not function when the fire broke out. Then there were talks about the fire exits not readily accessible during that very emergency situation.

Of course these are so far unvalidated claims except that these assertions came from some of those who survived the deadly fire who gave statements on their morbid experience trying to do everything in order to survive.

We got it from news reports that the mall has a safety officer who is in-charge of ensuring that safety and security plans are part of the establishment’s operational practices. The question though is whether or not the safety and security officer had been able to test the implementability of the establishment’s safety and security plan by conducting simulation exercises. If he or she has not then the plan was merely on paper.

May be these issues will eventually be brought to light in the investigations that will be conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as mandated by the Department of Justice, and other investigative entities that may be agreed upon by the task force created by Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to look deeper into the real cause of the deadly fire.

But even as a formal probe is yet to be started the NCCC mall fire must serve as a tsunamic call to both the Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG) that has under its jurisdiction the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and the local government of Davao City that has the responsibility of helping respond to call for assistance from the BFP in cases of fire emergencies.

We are saying that the NCCC fire is a serious wakeup call because it was clear during the NCCC fire incident how wanting is the BFP and the local fire prevention component of the city’s emergency response center in terms of equipment and other firefighting assets.

Yes, let us not lose track of the fact that the burned mall was only four storeys tall. Yet the BFP’s and city’s fire truck ladders could only reach to a certain height to the point that the firemen’s efforts to fight off the raging inferno almost dismally went to naught but for their raw courage and determination. Of course there were documented stories of heroism by some fire responders who braved the extreme heat and the possibility of getting injured or even losing their own lives at the most, just to search for trapped workers and saved some of them.

But their efforts to retrieve all those who were trapped inside the offices of a call center firm in the fourth floor of the building appeared to have little success because their ladders could not make it to the top most level. Add to it the suffocating toxic smoke that engulfed the entire vicinity of the burning building and the firefighters were hampered to the maximum. The rescue efforts especially for those who climbed the top level and hanged on to some iron extremeties only started to produce positive results when a bucket truck was brought in to the fire scene. The arrival was a bit late but it could not possibly be because the bucket truck owner company did not want to have its asset lent to the fire fighters. Rather, we learned that it was because the boom truck with the highest bucket rise was out in the field used for some line repairs and maintenance work. We surmise that the equipment was pulled out from its field work to respond to the request. Unfortunately, the traffic on the road leading to the burning mall was humongous that the bucket truck could only move like a turtle.

Now, there is no need telling the DILG executives both at the national and local levels, as well as Davao City’s officials that the city is now host to high-rise buildings mostly residential and office condominiums. In other words when all of these condos are occupied they become small communities located within the confines of seemingly limited fire vulnerable spaces.

Thus, when a higher floor level is hit by fire, putting it off becomes a very tall order for firefighters with their present assets especially the BFP’s limited fire ladder capabilities.

Good thing that the high rise condos are still in their early construction stage or those that are finished are not yet being fully populated. At least the DILG and the local government can still have some little time left to acquire high rise ladders and powerful fire trucks that can pump water even to the top of buildings that have as many as 20 to over 30 floors now dominating the city’s skyline.

Nevertheless, we have yet to hear or see any audible or visible actions on the part of the BFP to prod the DILG into acquiring new fire trucks with high rise ladders. And we have not heard an item in Davao City’s 2018 P7 billion budget that indicates plans of purchasing fire fighting assets for the city’s fire responders deliberated at both the committee and plenary of the City Council.

We wonder if Davao City’s first district congressman Karlo B. Nograles can give his constituents information relative to the possibility of the BFP in the city given by the national government some units of modern fire trucks that include high rise ladders.

Congressman Karlo, we understand, is the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. As such he should know.

Posted in Opinion