Monday , 18 March 2019

Absence Of Fire Threat Perception In Government

Safety from fire should be a primary concern for government offices, as for private commercial and residential buildings, but most of them carry on without caring to address this concern. The recent fire at the KTC bus stand in Panaji was an eye opener to government departments. Some of the departments have now approached the directorate of fire and emergency services to seek its assistance to make their premises fire-safe. They want an audit of fire safety measures in their offices done, something the fire and emergency services has often been reminding them of. It has come to light that even the state secretariat is not equipped to fight fire. Almost all the fire extinguishers in the secretariat building, where computer and hard copy files relating to highest levels of decision making are kept, expired almost a year ago. The story of the Goa Medical College and Hospital, the premier health institution of the state frequented by thousands of patients, their relatives and hospital staff, is even worse. The GMC has failed to comply with the fire safety requirements for over five years. Similar situation has been noted in most of the government offices.

Inspections by the fire services officials found that most of the buildings housing government offices were not fire safety compliant. Their fire safety systems have not been upgraded for 8 to 10 years. The fire safety certificates given by the fire services department, which were valid only for a year, were not renewed by the government offices for nearly a decade! Repeated recommendations to the heads of the offices by the fire department for removing the shortcomings in fire safety were given no attention. It is disturbing to think that the government offices have been functioning without getting the fire safety certificates renewed. Are fire safety norms not applicable to government offices? If this could be the condition of the government offices, one could just imagine the state of fire safety in private commercial and residential buildings. While providence might have saved the structures and documents and furniture and computers in the government offices so far, ministers and top bureaucrats should stop playing indifferent and pay close attention to fixing the fire safety equipment everywhere. It is better to be safe than sorry and take adequate measures to save office staff and visitors and the public properties from damage in case of fire.

Every head of department or office must see that fire safety equipment were in place and the old ones replaced regularly. They should also have a system of cross ventilation and quick evacuation in their offices. There should be training given to the staff by the fire services officials in use of fire safety equipment. Without training of staff, placing fire safety equipment becomes just a formality, as no one would know how to operate the extinguishers when a fire would actually break out. Some of the staff should be imparted complete training in firefighting so that they could start fighting a fire with the devices at hand till the fire services personnel arrive and contain the fire and damage. It is necessary to hold periodical fire safety drills and mock evacuation programmes among staff to develop a sound safety process in case of exigencies. All government offices should designate officials whose duty it should be ensure that all the fire safety norms were observed and followed.

The fire services department has carried out inspection of 455 public buildings in the state since 2012. It has noted that 80 per cent of the government buildings in Goa were lacking fire safety measures. The blaze at the KTC bus stand completely damaged a supermarket because there was no cross ventilation, no proper fire safety equipment and no alarm system in place. Let there be all these systems in place and let there be no more blaze at public buildings. Every government office should be equipped with hydrants, hose-reels, sprinkler systems, detection systems, fire pumps, public announcement systems and proper signs to facilitate quick evacuation. As electric short circuit is a frequent cause of fire, the officers looking after public buildings should get old electrical wiring replaced with fire-resistant wires. In the case of KTC bus stand fire it was found that a number of illegal shops were operating which allegedly had illegal electrical connections. The wiring in a building is of course the responsibility of those designated to look after it, but the electricity department must establish a monitoring system to eliminate chances illegal connections and illegal tapping of electricity, which might cause a short circuit.

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