ROUGH CUTS| Wanting in the NCCC mall fire response?

NOT until we saw what the firefighters in Cebu City did to control the raging inferno at a department store inside the Ayala Center Mall last Friday evening, January 5, did we think that our Davao fire responders might not have been able to do. Had it been done — or done better if it was — there would have been a possibility that the total number of lives lost during the NCCC fire would not reach that many – 38.

Yes, the Cebu fire responders destroyed some portions of the concrete wall of the Ayala Mall right where the Metro Department store was occupying several floors. Their purpose was to let out the heavy smoke inside the enclosed store as well as allow firefighters to spray water inside the burning establishment.

Now, what were the differences in terms of time and situation between the two fire incidents? And what were the apparent similarities?

According to news reports based on interviews with authorities tasked to investigate the circumstances of the fire, the Ayala incident happened at around 9:30 in the evening, a time when people were still very much around inside the mall and even in the burnt department store. In the case of the Davao mall fire it happened roughly at 9:30 but it was in the morning when the shoppers who were beating the Christmas rush were just about entering the mall. Those working at the ill-fated Call Center located in the mall building’s fourth floor could have been readying for the new shift to come.

The Cebu City mall fire started in the third floor, the same floor where the Davao fire originated as confirmed by fire investigators. But in the case of the Cebu incident the upper floor of the Metro Department Store does not have a Call Center Office. The fire also reportedly started in the area where toys were being stocked. That in Davao was confirmed to have started in the clothing and apparel section.

Fire probers in the Cebu City incident was quoted by the media as saying that the automatic water sprinkler in the Metro Department store did not work. It was basically similar to the case of the NCCC fire.

And despite the fact that the Cebu fire happened in the evening with a lot more people still doing their shopping or eating or seeing movies in theaters inside the mall no one died. There was not even any serious injury reported.

Unfortunately for the NCCC mall fire, 38 people were virtually roasted to death despite heroic efforts of firemen and other volunteer rescuers. Or, possibly the 38 were already dead from smoke suffocation even before they were devoured by the flames.

Yes, did the BFP and the city’s Emergency Rescue Group, or even from among the volunteers really bore a hole or holes, or destroyed a wall on the building’s third floor or at the fourth floor? That would have allowed smoke to have outlets so that the visibility inside would have been better for those trapped and for those who braved to attempt rescue from the inside?

Of course, even if such strategy was really done, or someone thought of doing it the next question is: Did the fire responders have the appropriate equipment needed to destroy the concrete wall? Yes, the scheme would definitely require a high reach ladder and possibly a jack hammer or wrecking ball connected to a heavy duty giant crane. We know the local BFP is wanting in these. (There were claims that fire responders in the NCCC incident did destroy a wall to make way for the massive smoke. However, there was no video or still photo documentation on the said claims).

We wonder if the Davao BFP has all those equipment readily available. We are hoping that when the new leadership of the Department of the Interior and Local Government under Undersecretary Eduardo Ano starts looking into ways of upgrading the BFP, perhaps these aspects of the lack in critical equipment will be considered with highest priority.

Meanwhile, we are praying that the apparent seriousness of the BFP in strictly implementing the provisions of the Fire Code will continue; that it will not just be another of those “ningas cogon” things or some kind of a knee jerk reaction.

Clearly, what the BFP people are doing now, keeping their presence in the one-stop-shop center for the renewal of business permits in Davao City, is the ideal thing to do. This will make sure that inspections of fire safety facilities in buildings and similar establishments are religiously done. Also, this will ensure that compliance of requirements under the building code is validated when there are indications of suspicious circumstances as to its acceptance or approval by concerned government officials.

But of course it is not only the BFP people who should do their job as mandated. The City Engineer’s Office, the City Building Office, and the City Electrician’s Office, all these three offices that implement the regulations by the local government in the construction of buildings and other edifices must do their jobs as honestly as possible.

For now some people from these offices have still a long way to go as far as the level of integrity in the performance of their sworn duties is concerned.

Are inspections of electrical installations done? If one says yes, oh, tell it to the Marines. It is the electrician who prepares everything; have it signed by licensed electrical engineers for a fee and submits the same to the City Building Office where signatures of approving authorities can be facilitated by “you know what.”

Yes, there may be random inspections in big building constructions every now and then. But seldom are these done because the OCBO does not have the people to do it regularly. And the said office relies so much on the name of the electrical firm or person that gets the contract of installation.

But what they may not be aware of, or may simply pretend not to be, is that electrical installations are subcontracted many times over with each contractor seeking “reasonable” profit from the work undertaken. And how is this being done? Your guess is as good as ours.

Posted in Opinion