MALACCA: It is unfortunate that it usually takes the loss of a life for members of the public (particularly here in Malaysia) or the relevant authorities to wake up and act to prevent future tragedies.
Such was the case involving the reason death of 11-year-old Tan Ho Meng who perished in a pre-dawn blaze at his home in Jalan Laksamana Cheng Ho on Aug 29.
It was a heart wrenching tragedy for the family because the father’s brave effort to save his eldest and only son from a fiery death by running into burning home to rescue him proved futile.
Looking at the circumstances of the incident, it was nothing much the fire-fighters could do to save the child upon arriving on the scene but to prevent the fire from engulfing nearby structures and homes.
However, the incident was brought to the forefront the following day.
Allegations were made by the boy’s grieving family that fire-fighters ‘refused’ to enter the blazing home to rescue Ho Meng.
The allegations made national front-page news of a local vernacular newspaper.
The family took the opportunity to raise their grouses personally to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam when he visited the boy’s injured parents at a private medical hospital here.
They wanted an explanation and for the first time in the state’s history, Mohd Ali held an inquiry and ordered the State Fire and Rescue Services Department to table a detailed report to the state executive council.
Malacca MCA chief Datuk Gan Tian Loo was tasked with heading the inquiry and to make the findings public.
The findings went public on Sept 2 with members of the media invited to listen to the explanation by the State Fire and Rescue Department’s director Zainudin Mat Acip.
“This is the first time the state is making the findings of its inquiry public.
“This shows our commitment towards transparency aimed at answering the questions raised by the family,” Gan said in his opening address during the briefing.
From the meeting, it was clear that the fire-fighters had acted promptly. The department received an emergency call at 5.50am with three fire engines rushing to the scene within six-minutes.
First spray of water to douse the flames, which had already engulfed the home, was at 6.02am. In fact, not known to members of the public, two firemen had attempted to enter the house by the backdoor during the operation. (A handphone recording was played during the briefing to demonstrate ferocity of the raging fire).
Based on experience, it was concluded that there was nothing much that could have been done to save Ho Meng as he had succumbed to toxic smoke inhalation even before he was burned and crushed by the collapsing roof. (Witnesses stated that they heard no cries of help coming from the boy and the post mortem confirmed he died of smoke inhalation)
The boy’s Uncle Tan Kian Lai, 40, who was present at the briefing, said the family was satisfied with the findings.
The cause of the fire was still under probe although short-circuit was the likely cause.
One important lesson from the incident is that many homeowners fail to realise the dangers they put their families in when they install too many air-conditions without making the necessary changes to their wiring system.
No words of comfort can take away the grief of losing a family member.
However, it is hoped that Ho Meng’s death will be a lesson for families to heed basic fire safety measures to avoid the loss of a loved one in a fiery death.