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Many new buildings in China are a death trap for firefighters
Chang An
11/14/2003



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A fire in the eight-story Hengyang commercial building in Hunan Province caused the building to collapse resulting in over a dozen firefighters deaths. The fire and subsequent collapse is believed due to faulty construction. Many firefighters still remain missing.

It was reported that the fire started on the ground floor by someone using sulfur to smoke hot peppers, and spread throughout the warehouse by the many flammables stored inside. With only one fire hydrant with low water pressure the fire unfurled quickly.

However it was not the fire that caused the deaths but the poorly constructed building. Authorities need to investigate the building’s structure and find out if fire caused the building to collapse or the inferior quality of the building itself made it vulnerable.

The construction industry in China is characterized by widespread corruption, with huge amounts of money being illegally exchanged and diverted in both large and small projects alike. As a result, authorities haphazardly inspect buildings. Even if some authorities want to ensure building quality, they are unable to do much.

When the so-called "ironclad" Jiujiang Yangtze River Dam in Jiangxi Province collapsed, former Premier Zhu Rongji angrily reprimanded local bureaucrats. Zhu called the dam a poorly constructed project with incompetent people in charge. However, the name-calling failed to solve any problems and Zhu Rongji has since disappeared from the political scene.

The firefighters who died heroic deaths will no doubt be showered with praise, but we should consider if they would have even entered the building had they known that it was a death trap to begin with? The morale for firefighters has hit an all-time low which, will affect future recruitment of firefighters.

How many other substandard projects like the Jiujiang Dam are out there? It may be necessary to review all projects that were handled by tainted officials, and while the cost will be high, it cannot be compared to the number of lives that will be saved each year. The economic growth rate in China is increasing rapidly, so money should be available for such a plan.

Sources say that many localities have stepped up fire inspection after the Hengyang tragedy, and while this is good, it is also necessary to find the root cause, and change the environment where inadequate projects are allowed to begin with.


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