How in God’s name was Regent Plaza even allowed to function without fire safety measures?

Published: December 6, 2016
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This is what happens when managements cut corners to save a buck or two. This is what happens when public safety is not a priority. PHOTO: AFP

Anyone who has taken their Cambridge exams in Karachi will know the significance of Regent Plaza. I was not only a Cambridge student who scurried through the halls of Regent Plaza but later, for odd jobs, I was also an invigilator for British Council and often had duties in the various conference rooms of the hotel.

There are so many people like me who, for years, have some sort of consistent relationship with Regent Plaza. I remember attending a conference there, and I even stayed there when I came back to Pakistan for a short while. When I returned, I had a two-year-old child with me who often liked to walk around the swimming pool early in the morning.

When I heard about the recent fire incident there, all those memories flashed through my mind. What if I was 16, taking an O’Level exam? I remember one exam where I was seated in the last row on the corner seat of a giant hall. What if there was a fire then? How would I make it out of the hall alive? What if the fire had broken out when I was sleeping in the room with my child and husband and had to make my way out of the hotel, the way some guests did, after tying bed sheets out of the room window? We were on one of the highest floors, I remember. What if it had been us?

Foreigners wait for help. Photo: AFP

Pakistani fire fighters look from a room of Regent Plaza Hotel following a fire in Karachi on December 5, 2016. Photo: AFP

I am quite sure that similar thoughts must have run through every person’s mind who has ever been to this hotel. One of the guests who suffered through this nightmare said that the exits were completely non-functional. Fire extinguishers were still attached to the wall – and charred remains of sofas and carpets were right next to it. Eleven people were killed. 75 people were injured. It included some cricket players and PIA employees and the dead included four women.

It took three hours for the fire department to bring the situation under control. The hotel management did not turn off the air-conditioning, as a result of which the smoke kept circulating through the hotel vents, suffocating the victims. The hotel management was completely unaware of any fire emergency drills, the hotel’s fire alarm system was out of order and there weren’t any exhaust systems.

Even though the fire was put out soon, the smoke spread throughout the hotel, suffocating people. Photo: Online

Is this how ‘reputable’ and expensive hotels are supposed to work? What was the Karachi Cantonment Board or the Civil Defence department doing – did it not carry out routine checks on hotels that fell under their jurisdiction regarding safety checks? Where were the sprinklers and the standpipe systems and exits? And will the hotel management and city governmental organisations even be held accountable for this grave loss of life and property?

Guests gather outside Regent Plaza. Photo: AFP

Injured guests walk outside a Regent Plaza Hotel following a fire. Photo: AFP

This is what happens when managements cut corners to save a buck or two. This is what happens when public safety is not a priority. This is what happens when petty bribes are preferred over actually doing your job. How in God’s name was this hotel allowed to function at all when such basic safety parameters were left completely unchecked? And who is to say that all the other five-star hotels in Karachi don’t have the same level of incompetence?

And not just hotels, what about schools? We see small mushroom-growth of schools in every other bungalow in Karachi. Do they have proper fire safety measures? What about hospitals? Mosques? Banks? Marriage halls? Restaurants? Or any other public building that has multiple stories and manages to hold over hundreds of people at one time?

Fire fighters look from a room of Regent Plaza Hotel following a fire in the Pakistan’s port city of Karachi on December 5, 2016. Photo: AFP

If the stakeholders are wise enough, they would learn from this horrifying incident to create more and more safety measures for the public. Even if these big bad businessmen are just watching out for their capital, having a fire incident is hardly good for it.

Volunteers help a foreigner in evacuating after the fire. Photo: AFP

If the justice system would have any sway, the guests ought to be suing the hotel and its management for gross negligence and incompetence. But of course, this news will go in the long history of incompetence that we have seen over the years in our news cycle. It is only the victims who will remember the horror and the pain they suffered, because the people who they trusted with their life and belongings were more interested in saving a few thousand rupees instead of actually taking care of their responsibilities.

A rescue worker stands on the floor as broken windows are seen with bed sheets used by guests to escape a fire erupted in a hotel early morning in Karachi, Pakistan, December 5, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Mahwash.Badar.

Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Amir

    Just like 99.9% of buildings in Pakistan are built and occupied without any concern for safety. Building codes are there, yet greasing the palm of building controllers gets you buy. There are now tall high rises coming up, yet the city does not have resources to tackle high rise blaze, the contractors building it do not care about safety.Recommend

  • Concerned Citizen

    It is said that there were emergency exits and evacuation system was in place but the smoke was so heavy and most of the people were in deep sleep that the reaction time was really small. Although this is not excuse but I believe more than the hotel management, the government bodies are to blame because people will always find ways to cut corners to save a buck or two but it is the government’s responsibility to make sure every safety standard is met. That will bound these hotels and other large building owners to follow them. As you said, not just the hotels, any building in karachi will have the same problem if such thing happens. Fortunately hotel management was able to rescue over 500 people so we can give them some credit that this was not that done purposely or they did not care. It was an accident that could have been avoided had there been strict regulations/checkups by both the government and the management of the hotel.

    Everyone is bashing only the hotel management and nobody is pointing fingers on the lack of infrastructure in karachi. We lack basic things and we need to get our house in order ASAP or else these things would keep on happening on a regular basis!Recommend

  • Shahid

    Absolute belief in God that there will not be any fire, no damage or no lives will be lost, they Bribe the Authorities, who take bribe Haram money and then pray 5 times a day to God, and then put Clients and Customers including visiting public Lives at Risk; Recommend

  • Cautious

    It’s called involuntary manslaughter – it’s where you don’t do your job and other people as slaughtered. You usually land up in court/convicted/spend yrs in jail/ and will never ever find another job where you have responsibility for other peoples lives. In Pakistan/India – responsibility is more fluid.Recommend

  • Amer

    Incidents like this along with the one at Gaddani are going to keep happening. That’s the grassroots corruption in Pakistan for you.Recommend

  • cricket fan

    All hotels are governed as per provision of Hotels and Restaurants act 1976. The management must be charged with negligence for not recovering the faulty fire alarm system and other provisions. They should be penalized and bound to compensate the victims as per above quoted law. i think there is no need to inquire further as unserviceability of fore alarm system and associated accessories already established.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The fish rots from the head downwards.Recommend

  • Nouman

    The elephant in the room is the identity of the owners..the elusive Baweja Family, the Muzaffar Baweja and Zubair Baweja and their family memebrs Muniza, Shahida etc. They were profiting with the proceeds of this hotel but their names are conveniently missing from any media reporting. They should be dragged to the courts and pay for their folly……if its good enough to get profit from, why not pay the music of consequencues of killing 12 human beings…the Hotel did not have any fire prevention system, there was no escape route as well…..Recommend

  • Athar Aamir

    Right Question asked but who will answer? I am sure, no one In Karachi nor from IslamabadRecommend

  • Concerned Citizen

    why share the personal vandetta on the public forum? Let the authorities do their work. Name bashing will do no good because it is not just one person who is responsible for these things.Recommend

  • Nouman

    Normal , civilises laws do not apply in our country….Extraordinary conditions require extra -ordinary steps…naming and shaming individual, make their lives untenable and making them impossible to do Business in Pakistan …is what I think the best step…..we know the system is a failed one….you never heard people getting out free , without paying from this hotel..because they had security thugs to stop that….it means human life was meaningless for them and now they ought to pay the price in local which they understand.Recommend