Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Safety First: Fire

I am haunted since last night.

In light of the unbelievably tragic event that shook Qatar yesterday when its biggest shopping mall saw a fire claim nineteen lives, including thirteen children and two firefighters as per Al Jazeera's report, I think we should all pay more attention to safety measures in public places. 

How sad that it usually takes a tragedy to wake people up but I too, like many others, tend to take safety for granted and dismiss the (boring) instructions we are sometimes forced to listen to over and over.

Photo: Al Jazeera

As an expat living in the UAE, I do my fair share of traveling and I am ashamed to say, when I am in a plane and those safety guidelines videos start to play, I usually turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. I cannot remember the last time I picked up that safety leaflet and reviewed those life-saving instructions.

Since I turned "mom" and travel with kids, I do make sure to check where emergency exits are though, both in airplanes and any new location we visit. I acquired that habit when I read an article about hotel safety. But that is definitely not enough. 

And to think that because one is familiar with certain rules, in an airplane for instance, is enough is simply irresponsible. I understand that more than ever today. 

Unfortunately, in a state of panic, one can hardly remember one's own name, let alone a set of regulations! And ironically, this is when we need that brain to function full-throttle. So there is no harm in taking a minute or two to refresh that memory of ours every time we find ourselves in a location where we are advised to do so.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mia and I returned to Dubai for a few days to complete some residency paperwork and due to the heated weather, we ended up spending all of our time indoors. That included play areas and shopping malls. We are quite lucky to live in Motor City where the community is booming with family and children friendly locations. So we do not have to spend entire days at the mall. 

However, we did swing by Mall of the Emirates to meet some friends once and we took Mia to Magic Planet which is not your usual play area. It is a huge entertainment center within the mall! I always am uncomfortable when I go there because it is too dark, extremely noisy and the passageways between the game stands are a bit narrow so you always bump into other people. They have a nursery there too with a soft play area for the littler ones. It took me a while to locate it because it is sort of hidden in a corner, inside an aisle, and one enters it like, em, well like a cave.

Photo: Magic Planet

I will not go as far as to claim Magic Planet is a death trap but at times of emergency, one better be prepared and aware of all emergency exits and how to reach them or the chaos will simply make it impossible to get out, let alone save lives.

This does not apply to the Gulf only. Shopping malls are relatively new in Lebanon but they have become a favored outlet for families, especially now that temperatures are rising. Those living in the city need spaces for their children to romp and unfortunately, parks and "green" spaces are scarce in Beirut. 

I am certain the staff has been trained (and possibly even more now following that horrific event) but I know for a fact, parents do not enjoy such trainings. So we need to make sure we educate ourselves before we place our loved ones in potentially harmful situations. 

Get acquainted with the mall, if you do not know it well, ask. There are Info stations everywhere and they can answer any query and hand out maps as well. Know your emergency exits. If you cannot find them, ask. Make sure you understand where to go and what to do in case of emergency. If you do not know that information already, ask.

You simply can never ask enough.
And in such instances, there are no stupid question.

Leaving our little ones in the care of strangers is without a doubt daunting to any parent. Reading about tragedies such as Qatar in the news does not help. At all. Actually, it made me even more paranoid. That is why it is important to always make sure the venues we chose properly train their staff and apply safety regulations which are approved by the authorities and based on international standards.

Photo: R. Abouzeid

I know it is common practice nowadays to leave the children with the nanny in those places. Bear in mind that these ladies are usually employed to help with housework which means they have no training to qualify as educators. Some of them do not even have children and most come from rural, poor areas which means they are not familiar with safety guidelines.

So if you have to leave your children in their care, make sure you educate them just as you would do your own self. If they are to be in charge, they should be equipped with a minimum knowledge or cannot and should not be held accountable. After all, they never pretended to be something they are not.

And this applies to requirements at home as well. So many parents work and rely on in-house help to babysit their children. That necessitate both parents and all adults residing under that roof to be in complete knowledge and control of safety measures at home.

When we first moved in our apartment at Motor City, the whole community was new and the buildings had not been previously inhabited. Which means that everything, including fire alarms, were being tested by the new residents (us).

The false alarms went off so often, within a month only two or three people would eventually evacuate the premises! So many families with children would stay in their apartments until the issue was resolved. But how could they know for certain it was a false alarm? Yes, there were (a lot of) technical glitches with the system, but that does not mean the risk of a real fire was gone completely.

Leading by example is key. If you do not make the responsible move to evacuate, then in your absence your employee might think there is no harm in ignoring alarms as well, and your children might even show resistance when asked to do so. We all now our little ones love to mimic us. So establish good habits from the start and make sure you never compromise or skip a life-saving instruction.

And never, ever lock people in the house. They should always have a way out in case of emergency. I have seen this practice way too often and honestly cannot comprehend it. Aside from the fact that I find it outrageous, I do not understand why someone would welcome people to live in their home when they do not trust them.

Image: R. Abouzeid

Finally, always keep emergency numbers (police, fire, medical) somewhere visible. I like to write them on a sticker placed at the back of the phone. My mom prefers writing them on a wall in the kitchen. Whether you post them on your fridge, your bedroom mirror, or save them on the phone itself always make sure you tell the adult in charge about them and how to use the phone.

If your children are old enough to stay at home by themselves, they should also know these instructions.

  • Red Cross / Croix Rouge: 140 
  • Police: 112 
  • Civil Defense / Défense Civile: 125 
  • Fire Brigade / Pompiers: 175 
  • Information: 1515
  • Ambulance and Police 999 
  • Fire 997 
  • Emergency Services +97142232323 
  • Al-Ameen - report a crime or suspicious activities: 8004888
  • Dubai Municipality Emergency Number +97142232323 
  • Electricity and Water 991 
  • Airport Enquiries +97142066666 

I would like to end this post with a thought for the families of victims in Doha and a prayer for all those who lost their life in that tragic event. May their soul rest in peace and may God have mercy on all of us and protect our children and all children from harm, always.


Links to Safety First and Foremost posts:

Mamma Mia

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