Fireproofing our heritage


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  • Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017

Abu Bakar says many pre-war shoplots need to have their wiring checked and replaced to avert short-circuits due to worn out insulation. — Photos by RAJA FAISAL HISHAN and RICKY LAI/The Star

PRE-WAR shops across Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are at risk of burning down because their owners are not giving enough importance to installing proper fire prevention measures.

Fire and Rescue Department (Fire Safety Division) assistant director-general Datuk Rusmani Muhammad said there seemed to be an apathetic attitude among owners of pre-war shoplots regarding fire hazards.

He said there should be greater concern among these shoplot owners to install fire prevention measures.

He noted that most pre-war shophouses in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor fell short of fire prevention standards and this put lives at risk.

“Although fires have burned parts of historical pre-war buildings in Penang, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur as well as Kuala Selangor and Klang in Selangor over the last 50 years, few regulations and fire prevention methods have been put into place to protect the people,” he said.

He emphasised that pre-war buildings were built before building codes or standards for construction existed that included fire safety measures.

Haphazard wiring at a pre-war shop lot in Little India, in Jalan Tengku Kelana, Klang. Note the timber flooring of the first floor.
Haphazard wiring at a pre-war shop lot in Little India, in Jalan Tengku Kelana, Klang. Note the timber flooring of the first floor.

Rusmani said fire guidelines nationwide had become stricter, but most were designed to save lives, not the buildings.

“Our laws do protect buildings but they focus on new structures.

“The pre-war buildings are built from combustible materials, where the floor is made of teak or chengal wood.

“The brick walls in the terrace-link pre-war shops are thinner and covered with mortar and lime.

“These are not good fire retardant materials.

“Without fire walls separating one shop from another and if there were no fire suppression methods like sprinklers then the fire has free rein.

Rusmani (right) with Wan Mohammad Zaidi inspecting a ceiling hook.
Rusmani (right) with Wan Mohammad Zaidi inspecting a ceiling hook.

“Earlier this month, fire razed a row of pre-war shops in Kuala Lumpur, because most of the structure was made with timber without high-heat resistant firewalls,” he added.

Rusmani said it was a pity that the row of shops was lost to the fire as it erased a historical icon in that area where people would visit to rediscover Kuala Lumpur.

“Petaling Street, Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin (Jalan Silang), Jalan Tun H.S. Lee (High Street), Jalan Hang Lekiu (Klyne Street), Lebuh Ampang and Jalan Masjid India are places where Kuala Lumpur was first developed and where some of the oldest urban structures still exist.

“There are a lot of pre-war buildings on these streets.

“Selangor has pre-war shoplots in Kuala Kubu Baru, Kuala Selangor and Little India in Klang.

“These buildings hold a part of our towns’ history.

Raman agrees to the idea of owners having to get a fire audit certificate for pre-war buildings to renew their business licence.
Raman agrees to the idea of owners having to get a fire audit certificate for pre-war buildings to renew their business licence.

“Owners of such buildings must ensure fire prevention measures are in place, to protect lives and preserve the historical significance,” he added.

Klang’s Little India Entrepreneurs Association chairman N.P. Raman agreed with Rusmani that there was a lack of fire safety measures in pre-war shoplots in Jalan Tengku Kelana and its surroundings.

“Small fires due to electrical short-circuit do occur in a number of these shop premises, and fortunately most of the time the fire is quick to be spotted and put out.

“Our association is concerned over this worrisome situation as it can lead to a major fire that may wipe out this Indian business enclave that is popular among tourists,” he said.

Raman said the association was willing to engage the Fire and Rescue Department to conduct a thorough fire audit for all shoplots in Little India.

“On the electric cables placed in a haphazard manner on the shopfronts, we hope Tenaga Nasional Berhad can reorganise the cables for safety and aesthetic purposes,” he said.

The fire department’s (Fire and Safety Division) Fire Abatement Notice Bureau chief Abu Bakar Katain said most fires at pre-war buildings were caused by electrical short-circuit because the insulation on the wires had worn out.

“It is time for pre-war shoplots to rewire and replace the electrical wires within their premises.

“We do not have a specific law to compel the owners of such buildings to carry out this task, we can only advise them to do so for their own safety and to protect their property and belongings,” he said.

He noted that owners of pre-war buildings were reluctant to install sprinklers because they worried that it might increase the chances of the building flooding if things went wrong.

“Our advice to all owners of pre-war buildings that are commercial in nature is to have portable fire extinguishers and install smoke alarms that will help to alert occupants to a fire before it spreads,” he added.

Abu Bakar said local authorities in the country could make it compulsory for businesses in pre-war buildings to produce a fire audit certificate when renewing their annual business licence.

Raman agreed that the suggestion for local councils to require a fire audit certificate from business owners when renewing their licence, was a good idea as it would boost fire safety in such old structures.

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