Archive for December, 2016

It was night of the not-so-cold 4th December when I landed in Karachi from Abu Dhabi via flight number EY200. I was there to conduct a site visit on 5th and 6th December for a PSO Project, which my company was bidding for. As per the instructions from my company’s Administration, the protocol officer from Regent Plaza was supposed to be available at arrival to pick me up and take me to the hotel but no one was there. After my several calls to hotel and a wait of almost 45 minutes, someone from hotel approached me and asked me to wait since some more guests were also coming on some domestic flight. I had to wait for some 15 minutes more when we were asked to sit in a car to escort us to the hotel.
Inside hotel there was another chaos. There were some 15 people standing in the queue ready for check-in while only two persons were attending them. I had to wait for almost half an hour more when finally I got the room key but the concierge forgot to ask for my ID card. I was shocked at such a non-professional behavior and when I reminded her about this requirement, her supervisor argued that she was a trainee and that issue was laughed away. Some bell boy was supposed to accompany me to the room but he wasn’t available.
As I reached my room, I was left astonished when the lights of the room weren’t working which were supposed to turn on after inserting the door key inside the designated slot. I called the reception and requested to fix this issue. After a while an electrician came and instead of fixing the electrical system he inserted the corner of the do-not-disturb card inside the slot and lights were on. I asked him to fix it properly but, again, he laughed it away and said, sir it works like that.
I was really disgusted at it, but I had to prepare notes for next day’s site visit and official work so I got myself busy and planned to switch the hotel the other day since my sixth sense was reminding myself of something worst to come.
It was around 2:15, 2:30 AM when I woke up with strange noise and smell. I ran towards the door to see what was happening outside. But I couldn’t open the door fully as the whole corridor was full of smoke. I immediately closed the door in order to prevent the smoke enter the room. As I saw it from the window which opened toward the pool side, the conflagration was spreading rapidly, people were running here and there like headless chickens. I could hear the people screaming for help. I also screamed at full power of my lungs. Fire brigade was not yet arrived and the smoke in the corridor was getting intense. People were breaking the windows so that they could either escape from there or get fresh air or both. I also broke the window of my room and tried to call fire brigade and reception but no one picked the call.
Now the situation was that I couldn’t go out of the building, from corridor, due to thick smoke and on the other hand, the only way out from the room was window where I could jump from. Please keep in mind that my room was on the eighth floor.
Meanwhile fire brigade was arrived and someone was announcing from ground to keep a wet towel on your mouth and nose. Now the situation was that my room was gradually being filled in with smoke both from corridor and outside and I couldn’t breathe. HVAC and Electricity which were working till now (like almost two hours after the fire broke) just gone off and I was getting almost fainted.
In panic, I called my home and told my dad that I was about to jump from the window and that might be my last call. He asked me to wait and don’t do that mistake as it was a pure suicide. After that call my whole family was informed and almost everyone called me to forbid me from jumping out of the window. I kept on sitting on the window with my one leg inside room and the other one hanging outside.
I tried to scream but couldn’t. I tried to think of my past but my mind had stopped working. The only thing which kept on striking my mind amidst screams of people jumping out of their windows and people shouting their room numbers, those shouting for ropes, ladders and help, someone shouting about the dead bodies lying in their rooms, was that in order to survive, I had to jump.
It was smoke all over. I was coughing and couldn’t walk a step. Last thing I remember falling down on the chair nearby when I heard the announcement that fire was put off. I again stood up, held my nerves and gathered my all power in my lungs to shout for help. Rangers were there on the seventh floor who heard my voice and rushed towards eighth floor. They opened the door and dragged me out. The intensity of smoke was reduced significantly when I was rescued and shown the way of emergency exit.
How did I came down, sat in an ambulance, reached Jinnah Hospital, got nebulized, got my mobile phone stolen, got discharged from the hospital, reached hotel again to collect my luggage and struggle to get my luggage where people were crying and shouting and fighting with management since they had lost they luggage and loved ones. Whole hotel seemed to be burnt into ashes but the management of hotel was acting like nothing serious had happened.
In the morning hotel was being washed, police had gathered, civil defense and firefighting teams were arguing with hotel management to collect the evidences and to find the root cause of fire, whereas hotel management was non cooperative with the authorities, and I was sitting outside with my luggage thinking about vulnerability of the life and threats posed by such heartless Saiths who open the hotels, give bribes to authorities and get the approvals. Hopeless, I am, that ever the responsibility will be fixed! Soon this hotel will be opened and blame will be on either late coming of the fire brigade or human error of the poor chef! No one will ever prosecute the real responsible person who, Approved the hotel to function when,
– fire alarm was malfunctioning
– Smoke detector were not working
– There wasn’t fire water system available in the hotel
– Fire retardant cables were not used
– HVAC kept of working for almost two hours after the incident and smoke spread via ducts and there was no automatic procedure turn the HVAC off upon detection of smoke
Since I am engineer and have hands on experience of the F&G system, as per standard, Fire retardant cables are used in fail safe manner as to activate the alarm when loop is broken. So if hotel management says that alarm didn’t work due to electrical cables or alarm system burnt, this is criminal on their part.
Moreover, where is the tax payer’s money going when there is no proper rescue system available in the metropolitan of the 20 million residents? It is 2016 and we don’t have rescue helicopters, proper ambulances with fitted oxygen and rescue equipment e.g., masks etc.
After residing abroad for almost a decade now and witnessing how the building laws are followed and rescue operations undertaken, I can safely say if such incident had happened in some other, even, semi developed country, no casualty would have happened!