Improve fire safety in HDB flats

The increasing incidence of fires in Housing Board flats involving elderly citizens is a cause for concern and underscores the need to revisit fire safety precautions in flats ("Flat on fire: Body of man found"; Oct 27 and "Man found dead at foot of block while flat burns"; last Tuesday).

This is a problem that will assume greater importance with our increasingly ageing population.

Older people living in flats are exposed to a greater risk of death and injury from fire, as they are not able to take speedy action in an emergency, or they may be living alone or on medication.

Knowing what to do in the event of a fire is, therefore, particularly important for older adults.

With much emphasis now on the care needed to look after our elderly citizens, the need to develop plans to make our HDB flats safer from fires cannot be underestimated.

The laws governing fire safety in flats require revamping.

Among other things, smoke alarms or detectors and fire-resistant doors should be made mandatory for all flats.

A fire escape plan, recognising the particular features of the premises and existing hazards, should be devised, and fire risk assessments made compulsory.

These measures should be simple to adopt, and be easily policed by the flat dwellers and their neighbours.

The importance of communication with residents cannot be stressed enough.

Structured neighbourhood meetings that involve public safety agencies and interaction with neighbours are essential to stave off the occurrence of fires in our flats.

Apart from the physical loss, there are also social and emotional costs arising from fires in flats. Affected residents have to bear the inconvenience of temporary displacement from their homes, and suffer the mental anguish of losing their loved ones, home, possessions and probably some precious memories.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

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