Daily Current Affairs – 19th October, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Fire accidents in India- the increased frequency and way forward
In news: Two fire accidents on consecutive days–one in a hospital in Bhubaneswar, and the second in a high rise in Mumbai–have again raised questions on violation of fire safety norms across the country and what possible should be done to prevent such incidents.
Bhubaneshwar SUM Hospital
- The ICU and dialysis unit of SUM hospital was engulfed in fire outbreak which resulted in loss of more than 20 lives.
- Cause of fire: Short circuit
Maker Tower fire, Mumbai
- Fire due to short-circuit in high rise tower of Mumbai caused death of two people.
Thus, this issue requires prominent attention as fire hazards are slowly finding more place as ‘recurring incidents’ in a year.
- In 2011, a fire broke out in Advanced Medical Research Institute (AMRI) Hospitals, Kolkata which claimed 90 lives, mostly due to choking.
- Cause of fire: The basement where the fire started housed a pharmacy, a central storeroom and the biomedical department, all containing inflammable articles.
- Reason for such high toll: The building was centrally air-conditioned, and there was no ventilation channel for the smoke to come out. The staff was unable to provide police and firefighters with the building’s plan, especially the locations of emergency exit and staircase, thus hampering rescue.
- Other major previous incidents: Uphaar cinema, Delhi (1997); A school in Kumbakonam, TN (2004); A multi-storey market place in Kolkata (2013).
Facts and figures:
- Fire is a state subject and has been included as municipal function (Art 243-W) in the XIIth Schedule of Indian Constitution.
- Directorate General Civil Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal office responsible for providing Advisories to State Governments on Fire Prevention, Fire Protection, Fire Legislation and Training matters.
- As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Fire accidents accounts for 4.3% of the total deaths reported due to natural, un-natural and other causes of accidents in 2014.
- About 19,513 people died in accidental fires in 2014.
- Electrical short circuit incidents increased 6% to 1,764 in 2014 from 1,661 in 2013.
- Odisha had reported the maximum fires in commercial buildings (40) in 2014.
Reasons for poor fire disaster response
Ill-equipped states and lack of funds
- Several studies have found that many states have not provided enough resources to fire safety. There have been complaints of lack of fundsand staff in the fire departments.
- Most of the states do have fire stations. However the lack of equipment is one major concern. Equipment like turn table ladders, crash tenders and rescue vehicles are clearly missing in many of the fire stations across the country.
- The manpower shortage is another problem with reported shortage of 96.28% firemen according to the National Disaster Response Force and Civil Defence.
- Urban fire services suffer deficiencies of 72.75% in fire stations, 78.79% in man power and 22.43% in firefighting and rescue vehicles.
- The existing set-up of fire services in the country is rather heterogeneous and not conducive to effective protection against increasing incidents of fires
Blatant violation of rules
- In the 2011 AMRI hospital case, there was an illegal storeroom in the hospital’s basement which was packed with inflammable articles like chemicals and medical waste. In addition, the hospital lacked adequate fire-fighting equipment.
- There is a ban imposed by the Supreme Court of India on bursting crackers after 10 PM. However at the Puttingal temple (Kerala), the firecracker show took place at 3 AM which was clearly in violation of the Supreme Court order.
- Further it has been found that in most cases the authorities do not take the permission of the fire department before bursting crackers in crowded places where several thousands of people gather.
- A no-objection certificate is a must from the fire department, but in nine out of ten cases it is not sought.
- A comprehensive National Building Code has been provided but hardly its specifications are adhered which increases the chances of fire accidents.
Non adherence to National Building Code Part 4
- The code specifies construction, occupancy and protection features that are necessary to minimise danger to life and property from fire.
- It mentions topics such as fire alarm system, height of buildings, escape lighting and staircase infrastructure, fire lift and fire exit etc.
- The National Building Code is specific, requiring hospitals to have horizontal evacuation exits for bedridden patients and sprinkler systemsfor structures of specified height, which would cover most medical institutions.
- AMRI Hospital’s construction plan violated the National Building Code, 2005. The 500-bed hospital did not have a proper ventilation system, which caused many patients to suffocate to death.
- The National Building Code says the area around a hospital must be kept clear to allow easy movement of fire tenders. The AMRI tragedy was exacerbated because the narrow lane leading to the hospital delayed the operations of the fire brigade.
- Though detailed description of fire safety has been provided, but most often, authorities do not even take note when buildings violate this code.
- This proves that fire safety is low on the list of our priorities as attested by the India Risk Survey of 2015.