THE Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) is going all out to keep us and our premises safe. But there is one thing that stands in its way. And that is our attitude on fire safety. Take, for instance, gated premises in the country. Especially the ones that have decided on gating as an afterthought, adding guardhouses and boom gates as they go along. They did not spare a thought for allowing access to fire engines and other emergency vehicles. What seemed to have been in their minds is to prevent people from entering the premises rather than allowing access. It is all right if criminals are denied access, but fire engines?
Of course, they did not purposely intend to keep firefighters away, but it reflects the importance that the people who manage the premises give to fire safety. And that, to put it bluntly, is a general Malaysian disposition. We are quick to blame the FRD when fires get out of control, but we hardly take steps to help ourselves. The law clearly says that the entrances and exits must not be less than 4m in width, and must allow vehicles measuring 4.6m high to pass through. The reality is otherwise.
And that is not all. We place all forms of hurdles along the path of fire engines. The laments of the department are many, and inconsiderate parking is one of them. In many housing areas, cars are parked on both sides of the road, denying access to fire engines. In the experience of the FRD, this is more frequently evidenced in low-cost apartments, although other housing areas are not free from blame. Despite numerous warnings, the inconsiderate practice of parking on both sides of narrow roads continues unabated. We rather die in fires than lose our parking spots. Lest the city-dwellers snigger, it happens in the Golden Triangle, too. All manner of vehicles — tourist buses, taxis and cars — double and triple park, blocking entrance even to our national icon, the Petronas Twin Towers. It is little wonder that the firefighters are able to be at the scene of a fire within 10 minutes of a distress call 45 per cent of the time only. Malaysia has lost 330 lives and RM9.3 billion to fires in just three years, and yet, we are slow to learn.
FRD can do so much only. Our lawmakers can amend the Fire Services Act 1988 ad infinitum, including a multitude of provisions. But this would not help. FRD can help us, but not when we do not want to help ourselves. The entire neighbourhood must come together to stop unsafe practices. Do not turn your neighbourhood into death traps. Take heed when you next erect a barrier or park your vehicle. You may just be impeding the work of firefighters in putting out fires and saving lives. Remember this: it may be your home or your loved ones that need to be rescued.