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Raise safety standards, metro malls urged

The prevalence of mall fires such as the tragic Dec. 23 fire at the New City Commercial Center in Davao City that resulted in the death of 38 persons including 37 call center agents and the Metro Ayala Center fire in Cebu City which raged until Jan. 8 stressed the need to strengthen safety standards among big establishments, Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said.
Castelo, chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development, said the blazes that hit the Davao City and Cebu City malls were particularly alarming since these went on for days despite the intervention of fire fighters.
Initial investigations showed fire safety lapses in the NCCC mall that contributed to the death of 38 persons. More than 100 employees of American contact center Research Now SSI managed to escape to safety.
Initial evidence showed sprinkler systems on the 3rd and 4th floors of the NCCC mall weren’t working as their valves were closed and the alarm system was deficient as Research Now SSI employees may have been unaware of the fire beneath them for some time.
The call center office had its own alarm but was not connected to the system used by the mall. Under the Fire Code of the Philippines, alarm systems in a building should be integrated.
In the Cebu City mall incident, all customers and personnel were safely evacuated but the fire had lasted for two days as of Jan. 8 despite all fire trucks of Cebu City fire station and their volunteers responded to the emergency.
Castelo said a re-evaluation of the fire safety systems of Metro Manila mall should be undertaken to eliminate fire threats and that the safety systems will not fail if an emergency breaks out.
Castelo said he will call on the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to conduct inspections of the safety systems and procedures of malls in Metro Manila and to provide Congress with updated reports on the safety checks it conducted.
The BFP should also do a comprehensive check on the capability of government responders in fighting fires in malls and tall buildings. “There is a need for government to invest in modern firefighting equipment especially with the proliferation of tall buildings. We don’t even have ladders that can go higher than 20 stories. But we have buildings 50 stories high,” Castelo said as he indicated his willingness to sponsor a measure that would provide funds for the upgrade of firefighting equipment.
“We need helicopters for rescue in tall buildings and water hoses with a long reach,” Castelo added.
He said now is the most appropriate time to conduct the safety checks prior to the fire month in March when fire incidents pick up due to the onset of the dry season.
Mall operators were also tasked by Castelo to give Congress reports on action they have taken to prevent tragic incidents such as the Davao City and Cebu City mall fires from being repeated.
He added that fire drills should be instituted and carried out regularly among mall officials and employees.
As the economy picks up, more shopping malls are expected to rise and cooperation between the government and business firms are necessary to assure the safety of individuals working and visiting the malls, Castelo said.

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