Deadly school fire in Malaysia brings issue of security versus safety back to the forefront

Blog Post created by cathylongley Employee on Sep 14, 2017


Reuters photo


How many children have to die in orphanages, shelters and schools around the globe before the danger of blocking building access and egress is realized and safety measures are enforced?


According to Reuters, 23 people, mostly students, have died in a fire at a Malaysian boarding school dormitory. Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, a private religious school, featured one door and metal grills on the windows. The youngest victim was seven years of age. Two school wardens also perished. Reports indicate that the cause of death was smoke inhalation.


The tragic incident calls to mind a devastating fire in a Guatemalan orphanage in March where 40 children died in an overcrowded, locked room at a youth shelter. That fire and this most recent international incident underscores the importance of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, which ensures occupants can easily exit a building in case of fire or other hazards.


This spring, NFPA Fire Protection Engineer Greg Harrington told NFPA Journal, “Ensuring that egress doors are not compromised must be the top priority. Don’t be misled into thinking that security takes precedence over life safety.” An exception to the rule is detention facilities, but the buildings in Malaysian and Guatemala were not classified as such.

NFPA 101 is a widely used code designed to protect people based on building construction, protection, and occupancy features. First published in 1927, NFPA 101 minimizes the effects of fire and related hazards in both new and existing structures.


Sadly, this morning’s incident in Malaysia was not an anomaly. Since 2011, there have been at least 30 fires reported at schools in Malaysia. In the United States, we have also witnessed tremendous loss in schools due to fire during the last century including Our Lady of the Angels fire in 1958, the largest loss school fire in U.S. history that took the lives of 95 people.


The safety of students should take priority over security.