Our disastrous safety record
Metros like Kolkata are particularly vulnerable, as even minor fires can be disastrous in overcrowded locations like cinema halls, auditoriums and restaurants.india Updated: Jan 14, 2008 20:53 IST
Long after the devastating fire in Kolkata’s Burrabazar is put out, the controversy over the firefighting capabilities of the authorities will continue to rage. The blaze, which broke out early Saturday, was fanned by winds and exploding inflammable materials like diesel products, plastics and garments in eastern India’s largest wholesale market. The fire destroyed property worth billions of rupees, gutted buildings and is threatening to bring down a high-rise structure.
If there’s anything more unfortunate, it is the way officials appear to have been caught unawares by the blaze. Despite help from the army and the air force, fire tenders still took days to douse the flames: an unflattering commentary on the preparedness — or rather the lack of it — of the fire brigade. After all, they weren’t fighting a runaway bush fire in some remote wilderness. True, the narrow lanes of Burrabazar may have hindered the movement of fire engines and the absence of hydrants near at hand cost fire-fighters valuable time. But why were the firemen handicapped by the lack of adequate equipment to reach the top floors of high-rise buildings?
Metros like Kolkata are particularly vulnerable, as even minor fires can be disastrous in overcrowded locations like cinema halls, auditoriums and restaurants. There is scant regard for safety norms as unscrupulous builders routinely violate the National Building Code (NBC), which governs the design and safety aspects of buildings. High-rise structures mushroom everywhere, disregarding the environment and safety factors, and spelling grave safety threats to residential colonies and commercial areas alike. Besides widening of roads and placing hydrants in and around major thoroughfares, the NBC should be made mandatory so that all institutions have basic fire-fighting equipment and residents know their right application. Unless such a conscious effort is made to improve fire safety, appointing inquiry commissions every time there is an accident will remain a pointless exercise.