Motivated in part by an increasing number of Civil Defense inspections, local building owners have been spending more money on their fire suppression systems after last year’s deadly Villaggio Mall tragedy, several equipment suppliers have said.
Prior to the May 2012 fire – which claimed 19 lives and led to five people being convicted of involuntary manslaughter – inspections of safety equipment inside buildings were infrequent, which led some property owners to neglect maintenance schedules, said Bineesh Basheer, an engineer with fire protection and security firm Phoenix International.
But that has changed dramatically in the past year and a half, he told Doha News in an interview at this week’s Civil Defence Exhibition & Conference.
“Civil Defense is now strictly inspecting (public buildings). Everyone is very, very keen about protection.”
Phoenix, a formerly Qatar-owned firm that was acquired by Dubai-based Unisafe last year, was among the dozens of companies with sales booths on the trade show floor.
Qatar’s Search and Rescue team, National Control Center and the newly opened Ras Laffan Emergency & Safety College also had a presence at the annual exhibition, which is organized to expose Civil Defense officials to the latest safety products and allow them to communicate their needs to the industry.
Many firms put their latest equipment on display, with some telling Doha News that there is growing demand for high-end gear.
Quality trumping price
Bahrain-based Alpha Fire Services – a supplier of sprinklers, extinguishers, alarms and other fire and security equipment – established its Qatar office a week after the Villaggio tragedy.
While the timing was coincidental, CEO Frank Ryde said he quickly saw a shift in the local market for building fire suppression equipment.
“Civil Defense started looking at its standards very seriously … (and) scrutinizing all products,” he said.
That proved to be a boon for companies supplying internationally certified equipment, Ryde added, noting that firms supplying lower-quality products saw demand dry up.
“We’re happy – it has removed our competitors that are trying to get (business primarily) on price.”
Equipment sales and installation were also the traditional focus for Phoenix. However, in early 2012 the company launched a separate maintenance division that’s expected to grow by 80 to 90 percent this year, according to general manager George John.
The demand for Phoenix’s maintenance services is fueled in part by Civil Defense’s enforcement of safety regulations, said Basheer.
Depending on its size and nature, a building’s fire suppression and safety equipment must be maintained and inspected by an approved firm such as Phoenix annually, according to Basheer. Civil Defense authorities also conduct their own annual inspections and will visit schools and malls unannounced every three to six months, he added.
This has prompted some of Phoenix’s clients to request that the firm perform monthly maintenance inspections of its fire alarms and water pumps, the engineer said.
Others say the legacy of the Villaggio fire on their industry is greater awareness of the importance of safety equipment.
Jotun is a firm that supplies a protective paint applied to steel that expands during a fire, insulating and preserving its structural integrity – essentially giving first responders more time to enter a building and rescue people before it collapses.
Public buildings in Qatar have been required to apply a protective coating to steel for several years, and Villaggio became a Jotun client after
before the fire, said regional infrastructure manager John Brown.
The tragedy “awakened” many people to the various fire safety regulations and generated more interest in Jotun’s products.
“Civil Defense realizes this is a life-saver,” he said. “Any fire raises the awareness of the potential danger…(Villaggio) could have been much worse.”
The conference will continue at the Qatar National Convention Center through Wednesday.
Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Villaggio became a Jotun client after the fire.