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Fire safety group pledged

A policeman walks past a university laboratory in Phnom Penh where a fire broke out killing one person
A policeman walks past a university laboratory in Phnom Penh where a fire broke out killing one person last week. Heng Chivoan

Fire safety group pledged

The Interior Ministry’s Department of Weapons, Explosives and Fire Management will form a working group to bring together companies and private fire-fighting services, amid recent calls by Prime Minister Hun Sen to improve fire safety in the private sector.

News of the initiative – which so far has about seven companies and private brigades involved – comes as the Phnom Penh fire department continues its investigation into a fatal fire at the University of Health Sciences on Friday.

The blaze, in a small second-floor laboratory filled with flammable chemicals – including a 90 litre container of 100 per cent alcohol, killed 32-year-old teacher Huy Seab, who was setting up his class at about 6:30am.

Phnom Penh Fire Service deputy director Sok Vannra said that police were still investigating the cause of the blaze, which was likely a chemical reaction rather than an electrical fault.

He said his department’s upcoming report to the Police Commissioner would recommend UHS install an alarm and sprinkler system.

“There also needs to be better training about the handling, transportation, storing and use of chemicals,” he added.

UHS was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Following the fire, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on private companies to improve safety, saying deaths like Seab’s were avoidable.

Paul Hurford, managing director of fire service consultancy Azisafe, said that the Interior Ministry had been working for three months to create a new body to bring together private companies, private fire services and authorities to standardise equipment and procedures across the private sector.

Already on board are NagaWorld, Diamond Island, Cambodia Breweries and a cement company in Kampot, as well as the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airport fire units, said Hurford, who called for more companies to get involved.

“This group will make sure these different organisations are working together to increase efficiency and effectiveness.”

Meanwhile, in another recent incident highlighting issues with private sector fire safety, patrons at the Legend Cinema were evacuated following a small fire late last month only to find the emergency exit allegedly locked.

Via email, Canadian Simon Springer, among those in the audience, said he was “happy to be alive” after being forced to kick down the locked door when smoke began billowing into the theatre on April 23.

A Legend Cinema employee, who declined to be identified, yesterday said the smoke was the result of a small electrical fire. He denied people were evacuated and was unaware of any problems with the emergency exit.

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