Captain Sidewalk returns to combat fire safety violations in Saigon

By Duy Tran   March 28, 2018 | 06:04 pm PT
Captain Sidewalk returns to combat fire safety violations in Saigon
Doan Ngoc Hai (R), vice chairman of District 1, leads the district's fire safety inspection team on Wednesday. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran
Many locals have been found obstructing emergency exits in the city's old apartment buildings with furniture.

Months after the sidewalk cleanup in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1 lost steam, the man behind the revolutionary campaign has returned with a new mission to tackle fire safety violations in the downtown district.

Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of District 1, led an inspection team to check up on fire safety systems at apartment buildings built before 1975 across the district on Wednesday.

At an apartment building on Nguyen Thi Nghia Street in Ben Thanh Ward, the team found it emergency exit had been blocked by wooden furniture, with tarpaulins and lines of clothes hanging right next to electric wires. The building was also found to have no automatic fire detection system.

"This is too unsafe, if something happens, how could anyone escape in time?" Hai said. He said the residents tipped him off. He has ordered the ward officials to remove the obstructing furniture and install metal stairs outside the building to serve as emergency exits.

The emergency exit of another apartment building on Ly Tu Trong Street in the same ward was also found obstructed by paintings and wooden frames belonging to a painting workshop. The team removed the objects and issued a fine for the violator.

Inspectors remove paintings that were obstructing a corridor in an apartment building on Ly Tu Trong Street. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran.

Inspectors remove paintings from a corridor in an apartment building on Ly Tu Trong Street. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran

Further inspections at other old apartment buildings in the district also revealed that many of them do not meet fire safety requirements. Most of the buildings' fire detection and firefighting systems failed to work, while many emergency exits were found to be used as warehouses, garbage dumps or packed with flammable objects.

"Fire safety at these old apartment buildings is terrible," Hai said.

"The fire at Carina just killed 13 people, but everyone here is still unconcerned and irresponsible," Hai said, referring to the apartment fire that occurred in the city's District 8 last Friday.

District 1 currently has 86 apartment buildings built before 1975, nearly half of which are in serious disrepair.

After the deadly Carina Plaza fire, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have been stepping up efforts to inspect and tackle fire safety issues. Hanoi has discovered that 38 of its apartment buildings failed to meet fire safety requirements, while inspection teams in the southern metropolis are also dismantling structures that violate fire safety regulations.

Before heading District 1's fire safety campaign, Hai was known for his campaign to cleanup the district's sidewalks. He started the revolution in early 2017 with a pledge to turn the central district into a “Little Singapore.”

His team put up barriers and deployed police officers to stop motorbikes from driving on the sidewalks. During the crackdown, vehicles, including government and foreign diplomatic cars, were towed, and invasive constructions that spilled out onto the street, some of which belonged to five-star hotels, were dismantled.

But he asked to step down from the work last January, saying that his campaign had collided with businesses that had million-dollar interests on the sidewalks, and a large number of officials backing them.

The mission needed the support of the entire political system, which he did not receive, he said.

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