Burning issues to attend to at Tel Aviv's Beit Panorama

Thousands of people work there, but firefighters have been warning for eight years that the building is a disaster waiting to happen.

Thousands of people work at hundreds of business offices there, but firefighters have been warning for eight years that the building is a disaster waiting to happen Tel Aviv's fire safety service is warning that a large commercial building in the city is dangerous for the thousands of people who use it every day, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Tel Aviv. And the service says nothing has been done to make Beit Panorama meet fire safety standards, despite warnings going back eight years and despite a fire having broken out at a similar building nearby five years ago. The report said the building, located on Sderot Ben Zvi and housing 180 different businesses, lacked a sprinkler system and a ventilation system to release smoke, and demanded that it be fitted with these and other safety measures by February 2008. According to the newspaper, the deadline had come and gone without the work having been done, and the building was still operating and was still a fire hazard. "This building is a dangerous structure, especially its basements," a fire service official said. "From the moment a fire breaks out, especially at night, there is a potential for it to exact a very heavy price." The official said the service had "begun the process of canceling the (building's) business licenses." Five years ago, a fire broke out at nearby Beit Merkazim, a building with similar fire safety flaws. It took 70 firefighters to control the blaze, and one was severely injured and had one leg amputated. The building suffered significant damage and part of it collapsed. An Interior Ministry committee that investigated the fire afterwards found that the city of Tel Aviv had not enforced the required fire safety measures. A municipal spokesman said Beit Panorama's managers had not met requirements and the city would begin acting to cancel business licenses there, but when questioned why nothing had been done since warnings were first issued eight years ago, the spokesman said that repairing the defects took time and money, and some managers acted only "when the knife is resting against their throats." The spokesman said that about 18 months ago the building's managers had sought permits to build the water storage tanks needed for a sprinkler system, but for a variety of reasons the permits had not yet been approved. The building's managers said there had indeed been neglect of the fire safety issue for some years, but new managers had recently been installed and they were working "diligently" to correct the faults in the shortest possible time, and the smoke-release system for the lower stories was already nearing completion. "From the moment the new management came in, it has made its first and most urgent priority closing the gap to ensure the safety of everyone inside the building and its surroundings," the managerial spokesman said.