A significant number of poor-quality fire safety equipment sold in the local market are found to be of no use during fire incidents, users said.
Rupak Ahmed, manager of a shop - selling life-saving equipment in the city's Nawabpur area, said the demand for safety equipment has increased significantly following a number of major fires in the recent months.
"Prices of various such equipment have also soared."
However, with the rise in demand, some dishonest traders are selling sub-standard fire-extinguishers at high prices to customers to make extra profit, he continued.
"Most of the customers are buying these equipment unknowingly, while only a few are doing so with a clear notion about the quality."
Some clients are buying fire safety gear just to display the devices, they said.
The common fire-extinguishing equipment includes cylinders of three variants, fire bucket, auto fireball, hosepipe, boot and musk etc.
Cylinders are the most common fire-extinguishing devices. There are three types of the kit based on the ingredients - carbon monoxide, ABC and foam - to douse different kind of fires, Mr Ahmed also said.
"Often the cylinders are filled with low-quality chemicals, while some of the cylinders are very old," he added.
The cylinders vary in their sizes, from 1.0 kilogramme (kg) to 5.0 kgs, said Akram Hossain, Manager of Rainbow Traders in the same area.
"A five-kg cylinder sells at prices up to Tk 2,500, and the price drops proportionately with cylinders having lesser capacity."
Automatic fireball with the capacity of 1.3 kg costs Tk 1,500 to Tk 2,000 each, depending on brand and quality, he added.
The fireball has become popular in the recent months, in addition to other common safety gears, thanks to the simplicity in its use.
He identified the customers' tendency to pay less as the key reason for buying low-quality devices.
"We sold at least 1,500 fireballs in the last two months, whereas the figure was only two in the previous six months before the recent fire incidents took place."
Almost all of the fire safety gears selling in Bangladesh are imported from China, he added.
Relevant people identified lack of awareness, buyers' reluctance to procure costly materials, and lax monitoring of the agencies concerned behind the rampant sales in substandard fire-extinguishing apparatus.
Contacted, Fire Safety Equipment Manufacturers and Suppliers Association of Bangladesh leader Md Mohiuddin told the FE that there are only 5-10 per cent fire-safety tools in the country that can be certified as world-class standard.
"The poor scenario is prevailing, as there are serious lack of monitoring and supervision on the part of the authorities concerned, and coordination gap among the related agencies in monitoring the import of fire safety equipments as well as in checking their standard."
These loopholes ultimately left the market uncontrolled. The recent fire incidents and subsequent high demand for the fire-fighting gears have also provoked the traders to hike their prices, he noted.
Besides, attitude of their buyers, especially the building owners, to seek low-priced fire safety products is also a matter of grave concern that needs to be changed.
"Keeping this in view the traders import 90-95 per cent cheap Chinese goods."
Some traders tried to manufacture the fire safety tools locally, but these were not that much lucrative to the buyers and also cost more. Proper government support and investment could open possibilities in the sector.
Besides, people do not have sufficient knowledge, training and awareness in tackling fire incidents, the insiders observed.
Md Mohiuddin also underlined the need for forming a policy to this effect immediately, as life-threatening fire hazard has now become a serious national issue.
Ohidul Islam, Assistant Director (warehouse and fire prevention) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, told the FE that there is no dedicated committee from the authorities concerned to strictly monitor the import process of the fire-fighting goods and check their quality.
"When traders, importers, builders or infrastructure project implementers come to us to check and install their apparatus, we help them accordingly."
Proper monitoring, training, and increasing the number of fire-fighters and other personnel concerned can bring positive changes to the present situation.
"To this effect, we need more skilled manpower immediately," he added.
A policy to monitor and install fire safety tools is likely to get official approval soon. Once the policy is adopted, the safety, security, monitoring and standard check-up measures would also be strengthened, the insiders added.
A good number of fire incidents, including tragedies in Old Dhaka's Churihatta and Banani's FR Tower, claimed over 100 lives in the last two months.
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