Mayor Tomas Osmeña is planning to limit the height of buildings following the fire that gutted Metro Department Store over the weekend.
He was afraid that firefighters and rescuers might not be equipped to respond to fire alarms on high-rise buildings.
“I’m thinking that if there is a fire, and there’s a ladder that can reach 18 storeys, can that ladder evacuate 13 storeys of residents? The answer is no,” he told reporters on Monday, shortly before the Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas (BFP-7) declared a fire out at the Metro Department Store in Ayala Center Cebu.
But Senior Supt. Samuel Tadeo, BFP-7 chief, refused to comment on Osmeña’s plan to cap the number of floors of the buildings to make it easier for firefighters to control fires.
He said the BFP-7 has an 18-storey aerial ladder fire truck to respond to incidents in high-rise buildings.
But what if fire will hit on structures higher than 18 floors?
“Let’s see,” he replied, with a huge smile without elaborating.
In a news conference on Monday, Osmeña said he would order the city’s Office of the Building Official (OBO) not to approve the occupancy permits of high-rise establishments until further notice.
Existing high-rise structures may be excused but they must comply with all the safety requirements. According to Osmeña, a high-rise building has more than four floors.
“We have many high-rise buildings in Cebu. And the only hope of saving the people there are primarily the sprinklers. A fire ladder can only save you up to so much,” he told reporters.
“On my own, I’m thinking of putting a ban on the construction of high-rise buildings until we can reasonably assure that there would be safety standards,” he added.
If the height restriction could not be fully implemented, the mayor’s other option would be for developers to construct twin tower-type buildings.
Osmeña said each floor would have bridges connecting one to the other so occupants would not have to run down in case of fire.
“I’m talking to the whole of Cebu because there are many high-rise buildings here that are being planned,” he said.
Osmeña admitted he wanted the public to discuss about his proposal which came after a fire razed parts of the Metro Ayala for almost 67 hours.
“This might be God’s way of warning us that something is wrong with the way we are developing. To me this (Metro Ayala fire) might be a blessing (in disguise to teach us a lesson) the fact that nobody lost their lives. Let’s study this carefully,” the mayor said.
Engr. Josefa Ylanan, OBO Cebu City chief, suggested to limit the height of buildings to 20 floors.
“Although the safety of the people should not be compromised, we cannot immediately say that we will not accept buildings that have beyond 20 floors. It has to be discussed by our lawmakers in the city through an ordinance that may take effect in around five years,” she said.
Five of the eight-storey Metro Ayala were destroyed by the fire that started from the stockroom of the toy department located on the third floor at 9:44 p.m. last Friday.
Spared from the flames were the ground floor where the main entrance was located and its two basements which housed the grocery and household items.
After more than two days of intense firefighting operation, the BFP-7 finally declared a fire out at 4:18 p.m. on Monday.
“We thank all the stakeholders and the local government for a job well done. We were able to contain the fire and spare other structures,” said Tadeo in a news conference at the Ayala jeepney terminal.
He said they could have declared a fire out last Sunday, but they just wanted to make sure that even the smallest ember inside the building had been put out.
Although they were already able to completely put out the fire, Tadeo said there would still be fire trucks and firemen outside the structure.
He said they could have immediately put out the fire at Metro Ayala if the building had open spaces where they could penetrate.
“We were equipped with gadgets and trainings, but it was so difficult for our firemen to enter the enclosed building due to the thick smoke,” Tadeo said.
“Given the situation, we still did everything to contain the fire so it would not affect other establishments,” he added.
Tadeo said their focus now was the investigation to determine the cause of fire.
One of the angles being considered by investigators, he said, was electrical short circuit.
“But we could not say that’s the primary cause of the fire as we are considering all angles,” Tadeo said.
On Monday morning, members of the composite task force, who were investigating the Metro Ayala fire, went inside the burned building and took samples of the debris that included ashes and electric wires from the toy section’s stock room on the third floor where the fire started.
Tadeo said the samples would be sent to the BFP laboratory in Manila for micro-electro analysis. “We will wait for the outcome before making any official findings on what caused the fire,” he said.
Tadeo said they also took the statements of store employees who were present when the fire broke out.
“Accordingly, there were employees who managed to use the fire extinguishers but were not able to put out the fire,” he said.
The nine-member composite task force that look into the Metro Ayala fire were composed of fire investigators from the BFP-7 as well as the Cebu City and province fire departments.
Although the management of Metro Ayala had complied with the regular fire safety inspection by the BFP, Tadeo said they would still look into reports that the store’s sprinklers and alarm system did not function when the fire broke out.
In an earlier interview, lawyer Vincent Tomaneng, legal officer and spokesperson of Vicsal Development Corp. which operates the Metro Gaisano group, vowed to cooperate in any investigation conducted by the BFP-7.
As to the damage caused by the fire, Tadeo gave a rough estimate of P100 million although he said it could be more.
In the meantime, Tadeo said the BFP would continue to issue permits to any companies as long as they comply with the fire safety requirements.