Why were fire lifts not working in new HDB block?

The recent fire at Block 104D Canberra Street once again highlights the risk of fires in high-rise residential buildings and, in particular, the provisions for fire protection and evacuation in Housing Board blocks (Two boys, three adults rescued from burning flat; June 10).

It was reported that "as the lifts were not functioning, firefighters with their air cylinders had to lug their equipment up the stairs to reach the site". Why were the firefighting lifts not functioning in a block that appears to have been completed just last year?

Without protected firefighting lifts and with no regulatory requirement for areas of refuge in a residential building, it becomes impossible for people with mobility difficulties to escape using stairs.

I previously wrote about another fire involving a personal mobility device (Improve HDB building regulations to protect people with disabilities; March 27).

The joint response from HDB and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said residential buildings met fire code requirements and referenced the provision of refuge floors and fire lifts (All residential buildings designed for safe evacuation; April 26).

Yet, the refuge floors in recently completed super high-rise HDB blocks do not seem to have sprinklers or, in some instances, share the floor with residential units. All of these are contrary to fire code requirements.

Furthermore, the fire at the block in Canberra Street gives cause for concern over the safety of fire lifts as these were not functioning.

HDB provides homes to some 80 per cent of the people in Singapore and, together with town councils and the SCDF, must address the needs of elderly residents and those with disabilities who may have mobility issues.

The Disabled People's Association urges the Building and Construction Authority and the SCDF to undertake an independent audit of the fire code and its effective compliance in HDB blocks to restore public confidence.

Building regulations and compliant designs are not the solution on their own. We must find practical solutions for emergency egress, which are tried, tested, and practised, to ensure the safety of residents of high-rise buildings.

Richard Chien-Ming Kuppusamy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2018, with the headline 'Why were fire lifts not working in new HDB block?'. Print Edition | Subscribe