Tuesday , 21 May 2019

Before A Fire Breaks Out

A comprehensive campaign is required to build up fire safety in public and private buildings in Goa. A series of reports in this newspaper has exposed the total lack of fire safety in public buildings such as the Kala Academy, Museum and Shram Shakti Bhavan. The fire department has been asking the concerned departments to comply with the requirements for fire safety but they have not cared to take any steps. Only lately the public works department appears to have woken up to start taking remedial measures in the Shram Shakti Bhavan. What has appeared in this newspaper is but a few samples of gross neglect in taking fire safety measures. An overwhelming number of public and private buildings do not have fire safety and anything can happen any day, and then there will be an outcry and the government will start taking steps.

It needed a major fire in a hospital in Kolkata five years ago to awaken the West Bengal government to the need for strengthening fire safety in clinical establishments. As many as 90 patients undergoing treatment in the AMRI hospital died in the fire. The Kolkata fire officials had issued warning to the hospital management, asking them to take several measures, but the management did not comply. For instance, the fire officials had asked them to clear the hospital basement, and the hospital had responded with an affidavit pledging to do so in two months, but it failed to do so. The West Bengal government now requires every clinical establishment to obtain or renew NOCs from time to time from the concerned authority as regards fire safety measures. If the necessary measures are not being compiled with, the clinical establishment is asked to ensure strict compliance and submit action taken report to the government. If the licensing authority is satisfied that an imminent danger to the health and safety of any member of the public or patient exists with respect to a clinical establishment, particularly on fire hazards, the licensing authority may issue a prohibition/cancellation order on the establishment under the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act.

Building fire safety starts with the design of the building. It includes mechanical and electrical devices. It means firefighting equipment, fire detection, alarm and communication systems and smoke management systems. It includes provision of means of escape from the building and disaster rehearsals for those who work or live in the building for their training in response tailored to reduce the impact of fire upon the occupants, the building and its contents in the event of outbreak of fire. The fire-unsafe buildings featured in this newspaper do not have the basic firefighting systems such as fire extinguishers, fire hose reels, fire hydrants and fire sprinklers which can be used, in the event of outbreak of fire, by fire brigade men or trained occupants of the building to contain the spread of fire. In the absence of such firefighting equipment, the buildings are open to risks of total destruction in case a fire breaks out due to an electric short circuit or some other cause. The second major lacking is no training of the building occupants. They must be trained about what a fire alarm sounds like, what are the things they shouldn’t do to prevent outbreak of fire, where the fire exits are and how to work the firefighting systems.

The Goa government has not even taken any superficial action to enforce building of fire safety in public and private buildings. They must start taking steps in order to prevent a human tragedy from happening. To begin with, the government must constitute a Safety Cell in the public works department that would ensure continuous maintenance and services including the maintenance of fire safety in major government buildings such as offices, auditoriums and hospitals. The cell must have a former director of fire services as a member. The officials of the cell must visit government buildings for fire safety audit. From time to time the cell can make surprise visits to check if fire safety measures are in place. In case they find absence of any measures they must ask the concerned PWD engineers to take immediate action and give them an action taken report. It would be the responsibility of the cell to get the fire department personnel to train the occupants of a building in fire fighting. Training and drill will make the workers in offices conscious of both preventive and fire fighting techniques and duties. Similar steps should be taken by the government to ensure fire safety in private buildings such as malls and commercial structures and establishments.