In conversation with UT fire and emergency department fire station officers ML Sharma and SK Gosain, who have been serving the department since 1985.
Excerpts from our conversation:
What was the enormity of the disaster? Have you ever witnessed such a huge collapse due to fire earlier?
There have been major fire incidents in Sector 22, and a building collapsed in Sector 26 as well, but there has never been an incident where the whole building fell due to fire.
What went wrong and what were the reasons for the disaster?
Short circuit could have been the reason for fire. Fire spread all over the building due to heat generation. The lackadaisical attitude of the building owner resulted in the collapse of the building.
A lot of changes were made within the building and fireresistant paint was not used on wooden doors which further worsened the condition.
What precautions should other building owners take, especially for old buildings?
Buildings, even if they are old, can use latest equipment to check fire incidents. Owners cannot just leave everything on the administration.
What basic equipment should buildings have?
A fire sprinkler and fire detection system should be installed. Cabins and kiosks should be painted with fire-resistant paints. Fire extinguishers are a must.
Is the UT fire and emergency department ill-equipped to handle major fire incidents?
Not at all. We are well-equipped in terms of force and equipment. There are 17 fire tenders and about 280 staff members. On that day, around 100 fire department staff was deployed. The department also has oxygen cylinders, proximity suits and other stuff. The equipment is used as per the need of the hour. Fireman Amandeep Singh, who died during the disaster, was wearing proper uniform.
Why do firemen usually forget to wear their uniform and carry safety kit, even when they are given proper training?
Rules are laid down but are over r uled at times and f i refighters act according to the situation. Regular courses are organised for them in which they are detailed about the do’s and don’ts while handling mishaps. Proximity suits, helmets, gum boots and cylinders are also provided. That said, some fire fighters claim that their efficiency decreases when they wear heavy suits and carry gadgets. Therefore, at times, they don’t act as per the laid procedure and guidelines. That is completely an individualistic decision.
What lessons have the department learnt from this disaster?
More awareness drives will be carried out for the safety of firemen. We do adopt adequate safety measures while tackling a spot, but a mishap cannot be completely ruled out.
What steps should be taken to implement fire safety norms?
Sealing a building for safety norms would leave almost the entire commercial area closed. Awareness is the key to make a building safe. Before renting out a building, tenants should check if proper fire safety measures are adopted by the owner. With the latest technology, safety equipment and gadgets should be set up which can check the occurrence of major disasters.