Ali Tower blaze: Fire safety equipment, SOPs missing, according to CDD notice

A day after a blaze engulfed Lahore's Ali Tower, leaving one person dead and eight others injured, an inquiry notice acquired by DawnNewsTV suggested that equipment and procedures to deal with fire emergencies were missing in the building.

On Saturday, a fire erupted on the fourth floor of the 14-floor multistorey shopping plaza that houses apartments, offices and shops on its upper portions, in addition to call centres. It spread to the upper floors of the building causing a panic in the adjoining buildings, as hundreds of traders, shopkeepers and residents gathered there.

Many people, including residents of the apartments located on the upper stories, were trapped for a couple of hours, owing to an alleged delay in the rescue operation.

An Aug 28 notice issued by the Civil Defence Department (CDD) regarding an inquiry into safety standards at Ali Tower claims that the building's fire preparedness is insufficient as it lacks a fire control room with equipment, sensors, extinguishers, and standard operating procedures for evacuation in the event of a fire.

The notice, a copy of which was shared with DawnNewsTV by a source at the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), gave the building's administration 15 days ─ until Sept 12 ─ to equip itself sufficiently, cautioning that they could face jail time or fines if action was not taken.

Additionally, a survey report compiled by the CDD and shared with the LDA reveals that more than 125 buildings in the provincial capital lack fire safety systems and equipment, including extinguishers, alarms and emergency exits.

The report claims that the lack of proper fire defence systems in more than 100 buildings poses a medium to low risk to the lives of citizens.

High-rises built in Gulberg, M.M. Alam road, Ferozepur road and other areas allegedly do not have the equipment required to tackle emergency situations.

At least 30 buildings allegedly do not possess the equipment required to deal with fire emergencies, while at least two dozen lack emergency exits.

'Ali Tower not mentioned in safety commission's 2014 report'

Ali Tower was not named in a list of 199 buildings (with four storeys or more) that were inspected by a fire safety commission in 2014 in order to identify issues related to construction and other arrangements to deal with fire emergencies.

"The commission comprising officials of the Rescue 1122, the LDA and other departments had been constituted by the Lahore High Court after it took suo motu notice of the tragic fire incident at the LDA plaza situated on Egerton road," an LDA official told Dawn on Saturday.

He said though the commission had inspected Ali Tower and identified some flaws there, its members didn’t include or mention it in the list of the visited buildings.

Addressing the media regarding the incident, Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan had said two people were injured when they jumped off the building to escape fire.

"All other people trapped in the building were rescued after an effort of few hours," he said, adding that the fire was extinguished and the cooling process was under way.

He alleged that the plaza being owned by former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif's son-in-law created suspicions that the fire may have been planned to damage records.

Investigations had been ordered to dig out the cause of the fire, the minister told reporters on Saturday.

A spokesperson for the Ali Group today rejected Chohan's allegations, saying: "Ali Tower did not contain any government offices and the allegation that the building was set on fire to cover up any official records is baseless."

"All the people trapped in the building were taken out through the emergency exits in the building," he said. The spokesperson clarified that the man who jumped out of the building was advised not to do so and only did it because he could not understand what was being said to him.

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