Two floors of high-rise building gutted


Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ISLAMABAD, May 20: While most of the firefighting vehicles in the city remained out of order, a fire gutted two floors of a high-rise building in Blue Area on Sunday.

The disaster management directorate of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) used only one high Bronto ladder (snorkel) vehicle out of the total five to put out the flames in the 14-storey United Bank (UBL) building. The fire broke out in the ninth floor and also spread to the 10th floor.

“We could extinguish the fire much earlier had all our ladder vehicles been in operation,” an official of the CDA told Dawn.Besides, the civic body also used its three ordinary fire brigade vehicles that were also ‘insufficient’ to meet the emergency.

The exact cause of the fire could not be ascertained though the chief of CDA fire unit, Zafar Iqbal, said it was due to short circuit.

He said the fire erupted at 4:38pm and the firefighters extinguished it at 6:30pm.

A firefighter sustained injuries and was admitted to Capital Hospital where he was out of danger.

Insiders said the flames were controlled within about two hours because people inside the building used firefighting equipment and inbuilt sprinkling system. “The fire could have spread to other floors had efforts not been made from inside,” said the sources. They said the civic body’s fire brigade was ‘unable’ to meet any major emergency as four out of its total five ladder vehicles were not functional.

They said the only firefighting vehicle, which can be used in high-rise buildings, was not enough to overcome such a fire.

It has been learnt that more than 95 per cent commercial and high-rise buildings in Islamabad are vulnerable to fire accidents due to inadequate preventive and fighting arrangements.

Islamabad is the first city in the country where Building Standards for Fire Prevention and Life Safety 2010 was enforced in January 2011, which suggested several safety measures in multi-storey buildings.

“The capital city is at a high risk because of deficiencies in the CDA fire brigade department,” said a senior official of the civic agency who did not want to be named.

He said four Bronto vehicles, including two having 65 metre-long ladder and two with 45-metre ladder, were imported from Finland in 2006 at a cost of Rs666 million. Of these, only one is in a working condition. One old Japanese vehicle is also said to be non-functional.

The fire unit chief agreed that four of the vehicles were out of order, adding the fire in the UBL building did not require all Bronto vehicles at a time.

He said one of the Bronto vehicles was badly damaged in an accident with a vehicle of the US embassy a few months back. “A team of experts are coming from Finland to repair the vehicles,” he said.

The sources said the US embassy had released Rs7.2 million to the CDA in September 2011 but it was not being used to repair the vehicle.

The sources said the Capital Development Authority had been trying to sign a Rs75 million repair and maintenance agreement with a local firm – Al-Fajr International – through the four Bronto vehicles had been imported from Finland.

“The CDA’s Departmental Account Committee in para 164 of its report has raised objection regarding quality of the vehicles but even then the same firm is being considered for another contract for repair and maintenance,” the source said.