As the height of Pattaya’s skyline grows ever greater, so does the risk posed by fire.
Ever since “The Towering Inferno” blazed across movie screens in 1974, the specter of high-rise fires has distressed condominium owners and hotel guests around the world, sometimes for good reason. In 1997, at least 91 people at Pattaya’s Royal Jomtien Resort died when a leaking cooking-gas cylinder ignited in a ground-floor restaurant, sweeping fire through 12 of the hotel’s 17 floors.
Pattaya Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department officials say high-rise safety has improved immensely since the tragedy at the Royal Jomtien. Unlike today’s tall buildings, that hotel lacked any active fire-suppression system, had unpressurized stairwells, was missing self-closers on upper-floor doors and had no fire-stoppers in elevator shafts. Making matters worse, the hotel was stocked with combustible wood and vinyl furnishings not treated with fire retardants.
Pattaya’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director, Saeree Jumpangern (left), with help from one of Pattaya’s fire police teams, explains how much better prepared we are now than we were 2 decades ago.
Disaster department director, Saeree Jumpangern, said the high rises that dot the area’s skyline today are required to have numerous layers of alarms and fire-fighting systems. Smoke and heat detectors, sprinkler system, fire alarms, and fire escapes are all mandated by laws toughened after the 1997 fire. Before then, antiquated fire-safety laws were so lax, and fines for violations so low, that owners simply paid inspectors, sometimes daily, instead of paying to correct problems.
Saeree noted that Pattaya also has a large stock of modern fire-fighting equipment, with ladder and basket trucks that can extend up to 68 meters. In cases of fire above that, the city has air cushions and fabric shafts to facilitate escape, and more than 100 firefighters to search upper floors.
The department also performs weekly inspections and regular fire-training exercises with hotels, shopping malls and high-rise residences. Since the fall, staffers have organized much publicized drills at Central Festival Pattaya Beach and the Hilton Pattaya that sits on top of it, along the Royal Cliff, Zign and Diana Garden hotels.
Training, preparation and regulations are only part of the fire-safety system, however. Saeree said personal preparation and responsibility are keys to safety.
He said all high-rise condo owners should buy their own fire extinguishers and learn how to use them. They should also perform their own fire drills, closing their eyes and trying to find keys, flashlights, and masks, plus learn to open doors and navigate escape routes while unable to see.
High-rise owners and managers also are responsible for checking alarm systems, automatic fire-extinguishers and escape routes.
If fire does break out, Saeree said high-rise occupants should move quickly to the nearest exit, leaving all valuables behind. Check for fire behind closed doors by first feeling for heat. If a door is hot, then leave the door closed and look for a window. Place a wet cloth over your face and keep your head down or, if necessary, crawl to avoid smoke inhalation. Once a window is open, shout and wave to attract the attention of firefighters.
Pattaya’s fire department can be reached around the clock by dialing 199 or calling the city call center at 1337.