Espinoza: Backward thinking

THE fire that hit Metro Ayala Department Store Friday night and which destroyed properties valued at an estimated P100 million tested the capability of the firemen to work in enclosed and tall buildings like the structure that was almost razed to the ground after burning for 36 hours.

Because of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) 7’s lack of firefighting equipment to combat fires in high-rise buildings, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña thought of banning new constructions of high-rise buildings unless there is an assurance that safety standards would be followed.

But in a report by The Freeman, Mayor Osmeña was said to have already ordered the Office of the Building Official to freeze all building permit applications for high-rise buildings in the city until a safety standard is established.

The city mayor obviously saw in the plan to ban the construction of high-rise building the opportunity to get back at businessmen and real estate developers that he is at odds with because they purchased lots at the South Road Properties (SRP) during former mayor Mike Rama’s time despite his advice not to.

Ayala bought parcels of land at the SRP in consortium with SM. Mayor Tomas wanted to get back the lots because he prefers negotiated sale rather than bidding to get a higher value of the land. But SM and Ayala stood their ground.

There is no doubt that the mayor can exercise his police power to protect the lives and properties of the city’s residents. But to have the developers limit the height of the building they will be constructing to the height of the BFP’s aerial ladder that can reach only 18 floors could raise a legal issue and would be anti-development.

For lack of space, the construction of high-rise building is now the trend in business. Just because the BFP lacks the necessary equipment to put off fires in buildings that are more than 18-storey high, a chief executive of a city or town has to prevent developers from constructing high-rise buildings? It is a backward policy, isn’t it?

The solution is for the government to provide the BFP with firefighting equipment that are in tune with present or future realities. It’s a sad truth that our government is always behind in development and only provides its agencies with equipment after a tragedy.

So many things have been said about the fire that hit Metro Ayala. Some people praised the firemen but others came up with offensive views directed at the owners of Metro Ayala. Since the BFP will soon start is investigation on the cause of fire, we will leave it to them to make the judgment.

There were questions that many have asked and that need answers, like, were the sprinklers working? Was every floor of the store provided with fire extinguishers? Knowing the Ayala management to be strict in observing safety measures and procedures, one can only ask why it happened.

On the part of the BFP, how often does its personnel inspect buildings in the city to find out if these have complied with fire safety rules and standards? Perhaps, they do not care so much thinking that the establishment is secure being part of Ayala.

While we do not blame the BFP for whatever inadequacies it has, it also cannot blame people if they question its competence in strictly enforcing the law. The BFP, after all, is primarily responsible for fire prevention.
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