A large number of high-rise buildings in Hanoi fail to meet health and safety regulations, said Nguyen Dinh Binh, deputy chief of the city police's Fire Prevention and Fighting Division.

Binh said undue pressure had been put on investors to complete projects quickly, particularly in resettlement areas, forcing them to take short cuts when it came to fire safety.

Exacerbating the problem, the fire chief said local residents were largely ignorant about fire prevention and what to do in an emergency.

He said many threw discarded burning embers unsafely, and some residents even activated fire alarms to entertain their babies.

Furthermore, he said fire exits were often blocked with personal possessions, motorbikes or even cars.

"Most residents do not receive training on fire prevention and fighting so know very little about what to do in an emergency," Binh said.

He added that apartment block management boards paid little attention to fire safety.

Le Thi Thanh Dung, who lives in apartment block No 27 on Lac Trung Street in Hai Ba Trung District, said she had lived in her flat for three years and had never received instruction on fire prevention or safety.

"We do not even know how to use a portable fire extinguisher," she said.

Dung also said that some of her neighbours burnt votive papers in the stairwells, despite warnings from the building's managers.

"Being given a warning is not enough. They should be firmly punished," she said.

A survey by the Fire Prevention and Fighting Police Division in March revealed that Hanoi has 364 over 10-storey apartment blocks that are serviced by just 50 fire engines.

Furthermore, just 228 are equipped with smoke detectors, while just 151 have their fire alarms regularly serviced or perform evacuation drills.

Binh said the fire services could not properly tackle blazes in buildings over 10-storeys high.

"We can fight fires in buildings of 10 stories or less, but higher than that, portable fire extinguishers have to be used," he said.

City police recently proposed that the municipal People's Committee order buildings of more than 10-storeys to be equipped with fire shelters.

Following a request by the Government, the Ministry of Construction is drafting regulations on fire prevention and fighting which require investors to spend between 8-17 percent of the total capital budget on fire precautions.

"We will join hands with apartment blocks' management boards to train local residents with the skills needed to protect themselves against fire," Binh said, adding that making residents more aware of what to do in an emergency would reduce panic – a major cause of fatal accidents.

Last March, two residents died when the 18-storey JSC 34 block in Thanh Xuan District caught fire.

Last December, fire fighters took two hours to extinguish a blaze in an apartment block in Me Tri Ha Resident Quarter in Tu Liem district./.