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January 17, 2011

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Helicopter on way to fight tower block fires

SHANGHAI is to buy a firefighting helicopter in a bid to ensure there's no repetition of the inferno that engulfed a 28-floor building and claimed 58 lives last November.

The city economy budget draft for this year said the helicopter would be used for high-rise fires, the higher floors of which fire vehicles are unable to reach.

The 85-meter building in the blaze in downtown Jing'an District had been out of fire vehicles' reach, forcing firefighters to go into a neighboring high-rise and direct their hoses from there.

In Xuhui District alone, there are more than 1,000 high-rise residential buildings, and "most of them are lacking proper fire fighting facilities," according to Zhu Zhirong, a local lawmaker.

Peng Youmin, deputy director of the Shanghai Police Aviation Force, told Shanghai Daily yesterday that they would buy a firefighting helicopter at a cost of about 100 million yuan (US$15.16 million) to complement current facilities.

Local police have four helicopters, which they used to try to rescue people trapped on top of the burning building on Jiaozhou Road, but were thwarted by thick smoke.

Referring to the Jing'an blaze in his government work report, Mayor Han Zheng said: "We're deeply sorry for the loss of residents in the inferno."

He said that lax supervision and management of work safety in the construction industry had been exposed, and admitted the city wasn't adequately prepared to handle emergencies like the November blaze.

"An enterprise's legal representative must hold the primary liability for workplace safety. And we will enrich the public's knowledge of safety, security and emergency protective measures," Han promised.

Meanwhile, Li Shaoping, an official with the Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute and also a local lawmaker, said it was not only company bosses who should take the responsibility for work safety issues.

Others who are responsible or have participated should be punished if there were problems, said Li.

"They usually do not play their roles right or they are simply not qualified," said Li, explaining the poor effects of safety supervision.

Li proposed the creation of a better and more stable working environment for workers on construction sites.


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