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80% of inspected high-rise apartments in Tokyo violated fire safety laws in 2016

As many as 80 percent of high-rise apartments in Tokyo that underwent on-site inspections in 2016 violated the Fire Service Act, the Tokyo Fire Department has reported.

Many of the residents of the high-rise apartment fire in London last week fell victim to flames because they were delayed in evacuating the building. While apartments of similar size in Japan are required by a number of laws to have fire countermeasures in place, many buildings in Tokyo fell short.

The Fire Service Act designates apartment buildings over 31 meters in height (roughly 11 stories) as a "high-rise building." According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Housing and Land Survey, there were roughly 26,700 apartment complexes with over 11 floors in 2003, and that number grew approximately 1.6 times to roughly 42,400 nationwide in 2013. The ministry reported 477 fires in high-rise apartment buildings in 2016, with an average of 3.4 square meters of fire damage per case.

According to the Tokyo Fire Department, out of the 576 apartment buildings in Tokyo designated as high-rise buildings where on-site inspections were carried out in 2016, there were 1,456 violations of the Fire Service Act in 463 buildings, roughly 80 percent of those surveyed. Of the violations, 1,025 were cases where fire prevention measures were not adequately in place, such as the lack of a "fire prevention manager," who is in charge of putting together evacuation plans and making sure proper drills are carried out, or proper fire defense plans. In the apartment buildings with violations, there were also many cases where fire evacuation drills were not being conducted at all.

The fire department stresses that conducting evacuation drills and making other preparations for a fire on a routine basis is extremely important. As for how to react when a fire occurs, the department also appealed to residents to use the stairs when evacuating the building. If residents use the elevator to escape, they risk being trapped if the power goes out and having the elevator fill with smoke.

The Building Standards Act also requires high-rise apartment buildings to have fire prevention countermeasures in place. In principle, the law requires buildings 11 stories or higher to have sprinklers and fire alarms installed, as well as have walls and floors made of fireproof materials such as concrete. It is also requested that fire-retardant curtains and carpets are used.


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