Photos courtesy of the Soffe family
On Thursday, May 29, six-month-old Elizabeth Soffe was put down for a morning nap in her bedroom by her mother, Sinead Soffe.
The Irish expat family has lived in Doha for about three years, and were at the time of the accident residing in Beverly Hills 7, a compound operated by the Al Asmakh group.
Moments after returning downstairs, the mother heard the child crying, and ran to Elizabeth’s room, finding it engulfed in smoke, and her crib, which had been underneath an A/C unit, on fire.
According to friends of the family, Sinead Soffe grabbed her daughter and did her best to extinguish the flames, before running downstairs with the child and calling an ambulance.
Elizabeth was taken to Hamad Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where doctors said that burns covered more than 60 percent of her body.
News of the accident has been spreading in Qatar through Facebook posts, and sparking renewed concerns about fire safety here.
An official Civil Defense report into the cause of the fire is not due for several weeks, but it is likely that the blaze began in the air conditioning unit above Elizabeth’s cot. The Soffes said the A/C unit had been running prior to putting the baby down for a nap.
In a public post on Facebook, Sinead Soffe – a school nurse – has appealed to all Qatar residents to take measures to improve their family’s safety:
“For now we would hope that each and every one of you insist your landlords check your electrics and install more smoke alarms. We had one in every bedroom, but it happened too fast – but it could save a life.”
Last week, the Ministry of Interior also offered several home safety tips to avoid fires, including making sure AC units are not running all the time and double-checking electrical appliances to avoid short-circuits.
Following last month’s accident, doctors at Hamad Hospital told Elizabeth’s parents that their daughter would require the treatment of a burns specialist, who could only be found abroad.
However, the couple’s insurance company was unable to find a suitable placement quickly enough, and it was only with “a lot of assistance” from the Qatari government and the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi that a place was finally secured several days later at a private clinic in London, according to family friends.
The baby was then flown to the United Kingdom’s Birmingham Children’s Hospital, a center of excellence for the treatment of burns.
Over the past two weeks, Elizabeth has already had five surgeries. Though she is in critical but stable condition, she still has a long road to go, her father Liam Soffe said. Speaking by phone today to Doha News, the project manager explained:
“She’ll need a huge amount of care for the whole of her life, if she survives.
She’ll need skin grafts and specialist plastic surgery for her whole life. Her burns are full thickness in a lot of places – her hair was on fire, her stomach – the only thing that wasn’t burned on her front was where her nappy was. She’ll lose at least some of her fingers, an ear, but we’re hoping she’ll keep her eyesight.”
As they struggle to cope with the emotional fallout of the incident, the Soffes are also grappling with practical issues involving their daughter’s emergency evacuation to the UK, including concerns about funding Elizabeth’s medical care.
The family is not British, so does not quality for free treatment in the UK. Their insurance company initially told them that Elizabeth’s hospital bills would only be covered if costs were incurred in Qatar or in Ireland, their home country.
But because Ireland has no specialist burns unit for children, the insurance company is covering costs for the moment.
However, the Soffes are not confident that this will continue in the long term. They said they are worried about how they’ll meet future costs, given the amount of treatment their child is likely to need in the months and years to come.
The couple is also currently separated from their three other children, who are staying with their grandmother in Ireland. Elizabeth’s parents are lodging in free charitable accommodation near the hospital, but will eventually need to find rented housing in Birmingham for their family during what is expected to be a lengthy hospital stay.
Additionally, the Soffes anticipate incurring significant expenses while flying between between Ireland and the UK to see their other children.
The Soffes also lost a large quantity of their belongings in the fire, as well as the use of their villa.
After initially providing temporary accommodation for the family for a week, Al Asmakh has apparently offered no further compensation, and has not yet returned the Soffe’s June rent – which was cashed soon after the fire – or their deposit for the property.
Al Asmakh have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The family’s financial worries have not escaped the attention of their friends in Doha, who have formed a committee to help raise funds.
The group’s first event will be held next Thursday, June 19, at 7pm at Doha’s Rugby Club. An entry fee of QR100 will be charged, and attendees will also be able to buy tickets for a raffle, with prizes donated from a range of companies including hotels, beauty salons and restaurants.
Speaking to Doha News, Pamela Murphy of the Doha Irish Society said:
“We wanted to try to raise some money quickly before people leave for the summer.
In the long term, though, we want to take a more structured approach, and we are planning some bigger events, such as a book sale and a coffee morning, for later in the year.”
Liam Soffe told Doha News today that the family has been “overwhelmed” by the support offered by the community in Doha, including help offered by friends who stepped in to look after Elizabeth’s siblings until they could be flown to Ireland to stay with relatives.
Space at the event at the Rugby Club is limited, and tickets will be sold on the door on a first come first served basis. More details about the fundraiser can be found on the Elizabeth Soffe Facebook fundraiser page here. Anyone wishing to help can email [email protected], or you can donate online here.
Lets pray together …
I have a problem stomaching this news…how did the A/C burn up….Was the A/C placed real close to the baby…most importantly why didn’t the circuit breaker trip ?!?!
My due sympathies and Prayers for the child……
Air conditioners in Qatar sometimes catch on fire because the constant swirling dust can settle over electrical components, which could cause an overload and generate excess heat, leading to fire… might have sparked and hit the cot directly which probably was placed beneath the unit… i’m guessing the electrical supply might have got nothing to do with it…. in my theory a better analogy would be— imagine a clockwork of gears(A/C unit ) running then a monkey wrench(sand) got caught between two gears.. the whole damn thing would burst into flames.
Yes if we throw a wrench in between the gears the motor electrical characteristic changes abruptly and its integrated Trip switch will activate and turn off the device, this also acts as an Overload Safety switch…..
Circuit Breakers are for excess current. Won’t do much for settled dust on components that conduct so much heat through the system that a fire starts.
Qatari policy is to wait for tragedies before taking action. Gas cylinder bans after the petrol station explosion the other month. Building codes after Villagio.
There is a very pissed off Qatari civil engineer in one of the Villagio documentaries on Youtube who rightfully criticises the indifferent attitude to safety in the country.
If Qatar is to be the global hub it wants to be it needs to start building up from the bottom and that is getting it’s infrastructure, regulations and standards to a global, ISO recognised level instead of dicking about throwing money at vanity projects and waiting for tragedies before deciding to force regulations.
The combination of lax engineering regulations and hiring low paid, non-certified employees to wire up new buildings and compounds is a firestorm of future problems. The company subcontracted to provide the electrical works may be accredited – but who do you think is on site wiring everything up – the white collar office dwelling designers or the blue collar non-certified labourers working to strict deadlines?
Birmingham is a great hospital where Elizabeth will be very well looked after. Well done to the Qatari govt and the Irish embassy in their assistance in securing treatment.
I am not speaking on excess current circuit breakers. When the A/c components gets clogged, the Residual Current Device (RCD) as they call it, will sense this fractional changes in current causing the circuit the trip immediately. This is as per Kahramaa regulation, either this circuit does not have this Residual Current Device (RCD) or this unit must be faulty, there is a test switch over it to check whether it is functional or not. I have encountered situation when the circuit trips, some careless people would simply turn them back on instead of checking the safety of the unit or the circuit through a qualified electricians. Also one of the failures in the real estate sector is to place profit over quality maintenance.
For some reason Kahramaa only indicates in using these devices at wet areas only, as a safety reminder this should be used on all single load circuit, as wet areas are not the only concerns but includes equipment malfunction and other hazards. Qatari Regulations seems be out of reality. I had an incident at the Airport – the Qatari standards where British while the project specifications American, we requested to follow the British Standards as the suppliers and laborers are familiar with it, this ignorant fool specified to follow both. The problem here is you got a person who thinks too much about himself rather than the project, if we try to prove him wrong they just wouldn’t accept such criticism as they see it is as a threat to their job security and their position as a client.
Internal Qatari institutions must be created and strict regulations should be implemented and monitored frequently. Life and safety should not be compromised over money, as is always the case when majority of the labor force are expats…..
A part of me died reading this. wish i could take some of her pain.
I am so sad to hear this. WHY has the landlord not stepped up? WHY aren’t landlords responsible for maintaining their properties? Just like after the Villaggio fire when suddenly some larger companies that own villas began to finally check and replace their fire equipment that was outdated and non-working, everything seems to happen AFTER a disaster! One 3 year old villa (previously occupied) that we moved into had never had the plastic taken off the battery in the heat detector in the kitchen! Yes, we removed it and the woman that managed the villa was ticked off that I reported it and suggested others check theirs! We brought in smoke detectors from the USA for all of the rooms….standard stuff where we come from (and available everywhere unlike in Qatar where such things are so hard to find)…..just know this – NO ONE IS RESPONSIBLE for YOU in QATAR. You must take care of yourself and your family the old fashioned way…..YOURSELF! Please….please….keep your family safe by installing smoke detectors and checking these things for yourself. Things are NOT THE SAME HERE!
How do you know the family didn’t make some unauthorized changes to their electrical wiring? Let’s all jump to conclusions, right?
excuse me? They installed their own smoke detectors and other safety items (reported elsewhere). What is it you take exception to exactly? Suggesting that landlords in Qatar are greedy and couldn’t give a rats about safety? I didn’t even say that! But, it’s true from what I’ve seen…..that isn’t jumping to a conclusion…it’s reporting my own experience and the experience of other expats in Qatar. My point is that each person here should diligently take care of themselves and their family – this is NOT the west – take NOTHING for granted.
What I said is: How do you know, that at one time, the AC broke. The family decided to replace the broken part with knock-off parts instead of originals, and that caused the fire. Nothing the landlord could have done about it.
I don’t know if they did or did not do that. All I know is it’s way too early to blame the landlord, like you’re doing.
Sure, you’re right…but that’s a huge stretch. This is a major well known compound with maintenance personnel so it’s highly unlikely that would be the case. More likely that the landlord/compound maintenance did exactly the same. Poor little child, if she lives, suffers her entire lifetime. My heart goes out to her and to her family.
You have a pretty wild imagination
This is a real tragedy brought on by poor building standards and an even poorer attempts to monitor and regulate building standards. Electrical fires are extremely common in Doha as a result. Fortunately, most do not end so tragically.
In a country where convicted killers of children are allowed to vacation and continue life as normal (i.e. the Villagio fire), why would any landlord take seriously safety regulations?
Landlords are naturally greedy; it’s a business for them, so they are going to cut corners when they can. Therefore, it is up to the government to provide oversight an ensure best practices are being followed and severely punish landlords who do not follow them.
“killers of children are allowed to vacation and continue life as normal” Yes, I agree; killers of children should not be allowed to get away with it.
Stop trolling. A baby was seriously injured do to negligence, and your contribution to the conversation is to follow me from another thread to harass me. Show some respect for this unfortunate family. You like giving your opinion as a Qatari all the time. What do you think about the state building safety in your country, and what liability should be carried by the landlords?
Curious, all I did was agree with what you said. What’s wrong with that?
“You like giving your opinion as a Qatari all the time” I’m giving my opinion as a person, plain and simple. You on the other hand cannot see past the fact that I’m Qatari. But that’s racism for you!
I hope that Qatar will work on building safety. This accident could have as easily happened to a non-expat child too. What was more surprising that there is not a specialized burn unit. That means that anyone severely burned would have to be sent outside the country.
Your quotation, comment and argument are spilling from another story and you ARE following him about. Have some decency. This family suffers greatly and you use their pain to try and start a petty argument.
This is the very definition of trolling.
“You like giving your opinion as a Qatari all the time.”
Wow. Racist. So he represents me? I didn’t get the memo.
once again, poor quality and security…
hope the baby will get well soon
Wait….there aren’t any burn specialists in Qatar??? That’s pretty incredible considering all the fires that happen in Qatar. Last week I was surprised when someone claimed that Qatar’s healthcare was better than most “Western” countries. When I challenged this I was met with disagreement. I’m sorry, but you can’t claim world class healthcare when you don’t have a burn specialist. That’s a basic requirement anywhere, especially in a climate like Qatar’s.
As a parent, my heart hurts for this family. I hope their daughter recovers quickly and steadily and I hope that Al Asmakh steps up to the plate and shows some real responsibility. However, when property management in other catastrophes are getting extended vacations to “care for their children (cough cough)” despite already being convicted, there really isn’t much incentive to manage property safely. Poor oversight by the government and not holding responsible parties accountable will ensure this continues…man that sounds familiar around here (road enforcement, anyone?).
Yeah I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but no one says health care here is better than in the west. That’s why we all travel somewhere else for treatment when it’s something serious and why Hamad Hospital is the butt of many jokes.
Either you’re making that up, someone was joking and you believed it, or you’re hanging out with idiots.
Check out the discussion thread at the end of this article: https://dohanews.co/nurseries-told-soft-toys/. I’m definitely not making it up, and I can’t tell you if either of your other suggestions are true. I agree with you regarding your assessment of the healthcare in Qatar.
This is a terrible terrible tragedy!
Beverley Hills is premium housing for majority of the population who lives in expensive death traps.
Yes if it is happening in decent compounds, one worries about construction of other places. My company carries out its own inspections of residences before it puts people in them, and I have often heard concerning remarks from the guys that go around.
Does anyone know of a good external contractor in Qatar that a family can hire to check over their house for problems like this? I worry about fires and also electrocution (units are apparently not earthed in Qatar) and I would like to do something about it…
Our thoughts are with the family this is such a tragedy.
Please Qatar take building safety seriously, strongly enforce the building code with no exceptions and ensure property owners who rent out buildings are made to have annual safety checks.
Finally it’s every responsible building owners responsibility to have building insurance including third party liability therefore either Al Asmakh or their insurance company should be covering these costs.
Poor little darling. My heart goes out to the family. It’s just awful.
This is terrible! And worrying, how are we supposed to check our A/Cs out? When I ask compound staff to have a look, they just say “it’s working sir”. Not leaving them on 24/7 is ok but gets a bit harder to do in summer. And then what? Can we hire someone to do any specific checks? Does this apply to split A/Cs or just window type? Such terrible news really makes you paranoid
Just curious… when this real estate companies charge fancy rents are they not supposed to see that the places that they have rented out are maintained in proper and safe condition including the electrical items, etc that come along with the properties
A terrible tragedy for this family. My heart is with you.
I agree with other posters. Do not rely on landlords for you safety. Bring your own detectors and take precautions when possible.
Comments on articles of this nature should not be an attack on others so PLEASE do not jump to conclusions and write idiotic messages. Spare a moment for the family, and if you want to do something about it. Visit the links above and donate.
Thinking of you Soffe family…
May God grant Elizabeth and her family much patience and a speedy recovery… Ameen. Thank you for sharing the link to support this family, the simplest thing we can do to support a fellow human being.