A tower of violations; 22-storey Banani building had permission for 18 floors, no fire-protected staircases

The Daily Star  March 29, 2019

A tower of violations

22-storey Banani building had permission for 18 floors, no fire-protected staircases

The FR Tower had no permission for its top four floors and there was no fire-protected staircase in the 22-storey building that houses dozens of offices, Rajuk and fire service officials have confirmed.

In 1996, its owner took permission to construct an 18-storey building, Abdur Rahman, chairman of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), told The Daily Star yesterday.

“But on February 23, 2005, they submitted a photocopy of the building’s design showing 22 floors. But there was no document to support it,” he said.

After yesterday’s fire that killed at least 19 people, the Rajuk formed a committee to investigate how the four additional floors were built and whether the building had fire safety equipment, he said.

The original design had an emergency staircase, but the Rajuk chief could not confirm if the building’s emergency exit was built as per the design.

Built on an eight-katha plot, each of its floor has 6,000 square feet space for commercial purposes, according to its website.

But there was no fire-protected exits in the building that houses a restaurant, a coffee shop, a branch of state-run Pubali Bank, a buying house, a freight-forwarding company, and many other firms, said Major Shakil Newaz, director (operations) of fire service.

“We have written to all the building owners on this street, including this one, at least five to six times, asking them to take precautions for fire safety.  But no one ever complied,” he told reporters after the fire was brought under control around 4:45pm.

The Daily Star could not contact the building owner, SMHI Faruque, for his comment.

Many more buildings along Kamal Ataturk Avenue do not have fire protection, including Banani Super Market, Hotel Sweet Dream and Hadi Tower, according to fire service.

Under the building code, buildings with over 500 occupants must have at least two staircases, and fire exits need to have doors that block out fire and smoke.

Also, the walls must be thick enough to withstand several hours of fire, to protect the people escaping through the fire exit.

Ali Ahmed, the immediate past director general of fire service, said the FR Tower lacked fire safety equipment and its staircases were not well protected against fire.

“As people were frightened and smoke darkened the whole area, especially the staircase, people jumped off the building to save their lives,” he said.

People can die from 30 seconds of smoke inhalation, he added.

Witnesses said people broke the buildings glass and screamed for help. A number of people jumped from the building to save their lives from the blaze while many others were seen sliding down from various floors using ropes and cables hanging from and around the building.