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Fire! Fire! – The Sequel

Wednesday, September 15th, 2004


With land getting scarcer by the day in the island, there is no other way to build affordable housing in Penang but up. Residential development has been going vertical for a while now with many projects rising more than twenty storeys. What used to be suburbs are now thriving townships peppered with a mix of high and low-rise apartments.

High-rise living takes a lot of getting used to, especially when many families live in close proximity to one another in such confined spaces and amenities have to be shared among those living in the same building. Additionally, each apartment has to contribute to a monthly service and maintenance fund to keep the common property in good habitable conditions. The amount collected goes towards paying for the water and electricity supplies to the common property, maintaining the elevators, employing security guards and cleaners, among others.

Where I live, we have not been issued with Strata Titles yet. The developer controls the management of the premises. Apartment owners like us have little say in the running of this place which we call home and which rightfully belongs to us now. We are left to the mercy of their whims and fancies. We were never consulted over major expenses and construction of additional structures which have now been deemed illegal by the authorities.

The monthly collection amounts to nearly RM49,000. The management takes RM4,000 for their services, the guards RM12,000 and cleaners RM9,000. For the amount that the management charges us for their services and employing of guards, I would expect a certain degree of professionalism on their part. Complaints, verbally or through letters, to the management went unheeded. This is truly appalling.


I wrote a letter to the management more than one month ago. It was regarding a fire that broke out at the apartment one floor below mine. That letter was copied to the State Assemblyman of my area YB Goh Kheng Sneah and the Pengarah of Jabatan Bomba dan Penyelamat for Penang. A few days ago, I received the copy of a letter from the YB Goh regarding this matter. It is good to know that he has taken a concern in this matter and is acting on it. However, I am disappointed that the management have neither bothered to reply nor acknowledge my letter to them.

The arrogance on the part of the management is a major cause for concern where safety issues are related. I came to live in this apartment knowing full well the risks of staying in a high-rise apartment for a disabled using a wheelchair. I would have no cause to complain if the premises is properly maintained. However cars are allowed to be parked indiscriminately in the driveway that prevented access to fire engines on two occasions when fires broke out. The emergency generator which should be maintained was not.

When a blackout occurred in my area in April, the emergency generator could not start because the battery was flat. The generator provides essential supply to power elevators, corridor lightings and the pump to provide water pressure to the rising mains. It is crucial that water pressure be maintained in the rising mains at all times, especially more so when there is no power supply. Some people will resort to lighting candles to illuminate their apartments when there is a blackout. Should a fire occur, I would want to see how the firemen extinguish the flames at the higher floors without water.

There are many other issues which also need to be addressed. The management should listen to the grouses of residents and try to get to the bottom of it accordingly. This is really a nice place to live in. The management should be genuine and honest in helping us resolve our concerns and problems. If only both parties can sit down and discuss in-depth the issues at stake without one trying to stamp their clout over another, many problems would already be settled by now. For now, I will just have to wait and see how the local authorities will act on these complaints.



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Fire! Fire!

Tuesday, August 10th, 2004

Earlier in the day, while I was chatting with Wuan on the phone, an awful smell wafted in through the window. Initially, I thought someone was using an overly strong floor cleaner but when I saw black smoke drifting past, I immediately looked out the window. Black smelly smoke was belching out from one of the windows from an apartment just below mine.

It was Peter?s neighbour. So I called him but he was already busy with the fire fighting effort. I did not know the extent of the fire and thought it would be best to go down to ground level and be away from the fire. I wondered if I should put on a diaper, just in case, but decided against it. It would take too long.

Fortunately, it was just a small fire. A table fan somehow caught fire but was discovered early. There was some damage to the furnishings but nothing major. Accidents like these do happen, due to carelessness or electrical faults. However, I am extremely dissatisfied with the response of the security guards in managing this incident. Below is the letter that I am sending to the Manager of the apartments where I am staying regarding this matter.

If you do not already know, a fire broke out at 31B-19-4 today at approximately 2:25pm. The guardhouse was promptly notified. I am extremely disappointed that the guards arrived at the scene of the incident only after the fire was extinguished. At the first instance when a fire is reported, the security guard posted at the respective Blocks should take control of the situation. If your security guards were not trained in fire fighting, then they should have been instructed to notify residents staying in the immediate vicinity and if the situation warrants, evacuate them in an orderly manner. None of these were done. Lives were at stake and your security guards were acting in a lackadaisical attitude which is truly appalling.

As the Manager of the four blocks of apartment here, it is your responsibility to ensure the security and safety of all residents at all times. I would like to know what contingency plans you have in the event of a major fire or emergencies. Surely, for the amount of management fees and security guard fees that are being charged to the management fund every month, you must have already drawn up a strategy to ensure the safety of residents here.

In addition, despite protests from parcel owners, you have been grossly irresponsible in continuing to allow cars to be parked at the driveway in such a manner that they will obstruct the movement of fire engines and ambulances. This will seriously impede rescue and fire fighting attempts. Are you going to wait until lives are lost because of these obstructions before you are ready to consider the safety of residents?

I trust you will furnish all parcel owners and residents here with a copy of the Contingency Plan for Fire and Emergencies within fourteen days to see if any amendment is needed. This will allow us to reside here with a peace of mind knowing that our safety and security is being looked after. However, if there is no such plan, I urge you to immediately initiate a dialogue with parcel owners and put together one for the safety of all residents here.

I hope something positive will come out of this. I believe all high-rise dwellings should have a plan of action for emergencies like fires. The exits are few and the high-density of people living in such a confined space makes it imperative that a systematic evacuation strategy is in place so that no lives are needlessly risked. The emergency services? vehicles should have easy access to the premises to avoid any delay in the rescue and fire fighting. If only lives are put before profit and arrogance, we will surely have a safer environment to live in.



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Blackout

Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

There was a blackout around my area last night at around 8.40pm. I was in a meeting of the Residents’ Association in the committee room of my apartment block. The lights flickered for a second and then all was in darkness. We waited for the standby generator to kick in to power the corridor lights. It seemed like a long while. When we heard the elevator emergency bell ringing, we knew that the generator had failed to activate and some people were trapped inside.

There was a slight confusion as all the buildings were shrouded in darkness. The fluorescent lights from the hawkers opposite were the only source of illumination. Some of the neighbours tried to pacify those trapped in the elevators. Somehow, they were able to pry open the elevator doors and those inside were able to climb down from the elevator which was stranded partially between floors. One fire engine later arrived but was unable to enter the driveway as there were cars blocking the path.

The power came back on at approximately 9.30pm. However, the Building Manager, who was repeatedly informed earlier regarding the non-functioning generator still has not shown up. I have filed a complaint to the Suruhanjaya Tenaga regarding this faulty standby generator. Whatever answers the Building Manager is going to furnish will not be sufficient to clear the fact that what was supposed to work during an emergency did not. Complacency and negligence in maintaining essential services like this can be dangerous. They will have a lot of answering to do.



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