High rise, high danger: Residents unprepared

No evacuation drills, or basic training leave occupants dangerously exposed

Residents living on top floors of high-rise buildings are more vulnerable in cases of fire, however, they tend not to be aware of what to do in a worst-case scenario.

Having an apartment on a high floor of a high rise building is a popular choice for many people in the UAE.

Skyscrapers filling the Dubai skyline suggest new residents are eager to opt for apartments with a panoramic view.

But, in case of fire, are they equipped to evacuate? Has a fire drill been conducted? Do they know how to operate a fire extinguisher?

The fire that erupted last week in a high rise building in Al Nahda, Sharjah, has left some people wondering about living on top floors.

A 34-year-old woman from the UK, who preferred to remain anonymous, realized that she had never given it a thought when the fire alarm went off last week in her building Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina.

"I really did not know what to do. I did not know about an assembly point, not a rescue plan, so I opened my door to see what others were doing," she says. "My friend who lives in JLT has an intercom system in her building which tells her what to do in such cases."

As surprised as the woman was by the sound of the fire alarm apparently also were the other residents of the apartments on the 54th floor. "No one actually did anything. No one took any action. Since it would take me at least an hour to take the stairs down, I stayed in and assumed it was a false alarm."

It was false alarm indeed, and it was not the first time this happened. Reportedly, the ringing off the fire alarm without any case of emergency or test scheduled is something not unusual for apartments in Dubai.  "The alarm in my building goes off all the time," says also Sina Abadi (18) from Iran, who lives in JLT.

"I live above the 20th floor of a high rise and wonder about this. We have smoke detectors, alarms, sprinklers and each apartment has a fire extinguisher, but I do wonder...," writes a woman calling herself SkyKitty on a thread of a forum discussing the casualties in Sharjah on ExpatWoman.

In Al Nahda, a Jordanian woman, Mithal Osama and her three children got stranded on top of the building that was in flames some floors beneath her, as the stairs leading to her freedom were covered with smoke.

She was rescued on time by a helicopter of Civil Defense, but could not make it the normal way out as the fire had erupted a couple of floors below her apartment.

"I tend not to think about these cases," says Steve (33) from Scotland, who is about to move in with his wife who lives on the 78th floor of the Torch in Dubai Marina.

As people are usually attracted by the nice view they have from their new apartment, they do not tend to think about the worst case scenario that might strike their building.

It is the false alarm that causes residents to be less likely to act when a real fire might erupt.

Mitha Osama, who escaped the fire in Nahda, had initially ignored the fire alarm because it had been ringing almost every day in the recent past. In JLT, residents are even known to be turning off the fire alarms because of the frequent aimless ringing.

"The alarm system is all on a loop. Should there be a problem in a common area where the alarm has been tampered with, the rest on that floor will fail to activate," says a concerned blogger calling herself Choc501 on the afore mentioned thread on ExpatWoman.

Residents who are more aware and prepared for the worst case scenario are not much more optimistic, as staircases are often blocked by stuff that previous residents have left behind.

"I intentionally chose to live on the 5th floor of the Sulafa Tower," says Eddy Current (45) from the UK referring to his residence building in Dubai Marina.

"I have worked in the safety branch myself, and my hopes are not high that anyone could recue me out of such a situation if I were to live on a high floor," he says.

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