Hotel Fire from Joe Dunn © 2023.
You might have read articles about how to survive a multi-storey hotel fire or high-rise building fire.
I was staying
The following is an extract of what I wrote from Thailand at the time; but it serves as a reminder to those who take safety in those tall buildings for granted.
The news from Bangkok on Sunday 23rd February 1997 did not leave any one who remembers it, in any doubt whatsoever about the danger of a fire in a modern, multi-floor building; nor the need to consider and mentally rehearse an unexpected escape; should it become necessary.
I was woken that morning by the noise of helicopter
rotor blades in the sky above the city buildings. That noise was mixed with the wailing of Fire-engine
sirens and Police cars from the busy streets far below. The panoramic view from my room on
the twenty-sixth floor of the Amari Watergate hotel in Phetchaburi Road was of an inferno of unimaginable
intensity in the
Within a period of only a few minutes, the fire
had spread from one small area on one floor of the ‘
I saw people waving frantically at the circling helicopters from the smoky roof area of the Tower. The 'copters were were gathering like bees around a hive.Several of them were gently hovering around the upper levels of the building in quite an orderly fashion, in the hazy morning sunshine. Thank heavens is was not night time, for each helicopter in turn had to approach the roof area through the billowing smoke to pluck off stranded escapees; maybe two or three at a time, after they had fled upwards away from the fire. These poor (or maybe lucky) souls’ ONLY option had been to move upwards; not down towards the burning lower floors. Sometimes helicopters would land those rescued on the roof of Bangkok's nearby World Trade Centre (now renamed The Central World Plaza) and sometimes they sped off towards one of the local hospitals. Their pilots kept returning to the smokey roof until no-one else came out.
It may seem to be a pretty tedious routine; to check out the location of the fire fighting facilities and escape routes when checking into a hotel after a long flight. But having watched a drama like this unfolding, it's necessity is beyond doubt.
I reflected as I watched the fire develop and the stranded people in their helplessness. Should they jump? Some did - and died. Should they chance the use of a high-speed lift before electrical power fails? Absolutely NOT. Other questions are less easy to answer and there is no correct solution. Should they have run down or walked up the emergency stairs, assuming that they could find the stairs in the dense smoke? Should they have stayed put in their rooms in the hope of a later rescue? Should they break their window glass to get more ventilation and risk showering those below who were trying to fight the fire with shards of deadly glass? I don’t think so. Every window which happened to be open in the multi-story building was ‘drawing’ copious amounts of thick black smoke from the guts of the dying building and exhausting it through the open windows to the atmosphere. Should they have sealed their rooms with wet towels or blankets around the door and filled up the bath with water to cool down later when the heat became intolerable? Should they somehow block up their personal air-conditioning grilles to prevent choking to death? Not much of an option, but possibly the best one because there are no guarantees of a rescue before the fire comes up to meet you !
The air conditioning system ducting was, I believe, filled with smoke at all levels. The main fans would have failed long before as they shorted out with the fire or water from the automatic sprinkler system. If the sprinkler system was operative within the President Tower, it may have eventually put out the fire, but it could never have stopped the smoke quickly enough to save life. It was a stroke of luck that the fire brigade could just reach the burning levels with their hoses on high-lift cranes brought to the street below. Had the blaze been at a higher level who knows what would have happened. You cannot extinguish a furnace with a watering can.
Only a few elements are very certain about this particular type of tragedy. You are almost totally on your own in the scenario; to make your own judgments using your wits and your own reactions. You have no time to waste if you are going to get yourself out and alert your colleagues; before that option is quickly lost.
Following extensive repairs, the hotel President Tower complex in Bangkok was re-opened under a different name nearly three years after this fire. It's now called The Bangkok Intercontinental.