7 PM | Fire Safety in India | 16 February, 2019


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Context

The massive fire incident in Karol Bagh’s Hotel Arpit had killed 17 people

Facts and figures

  • According to National Crime Records Bureau figures, 17,700 Indians died, 48 people every day, due to fire accidents in 2015. Of those who died, 62% were women.
  • Maharashtra and Gujarat, our two most highly urbanised states, account for about 30% of the country’s fire accident deaths.
  • There is a close correlation between deaths due to fire-related accidents and population density associated with urbanisation.
  • Fire outbreak is the third biggest risk to business continuity and operations, according to India Risk Survey (IRS) 2018
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs in 2017 told Parliament that the country in 2012 had just 2,987 fire stations against the requirement of 8,559, a shortfall of 65 per cent. India needs additional 559,681 trained fire personnel, 221,411 firefighting equipment, and 9,337 fire-fighting vehicles and specialised equipment

Causes for fire accident

  1. Faulty Electrics: Faulty electrics are the biggest cause of workplace fires, loose wires, plugs that are over loaded and old equipment can all make for a potential death trap.
  2. Flammable and Combustible Materials: Premises that hold any number of materials that are flammable or combustible represent a dangerous hazard.
  3. Human Error: When staff are not trained properly, they are at risk of making catastrophic mistakes. Accidents such as knocking liquid onto electrical equipment, burning food in the kitchen or spilling flammable or combustible liquids are occurs due to human error.
  4. Violation of safety norms: Every building in India needs to comply with the state guidelines. Many states adopt The National Building Code (NBC). Failure to follow protocols and procedures as well as failing to update systems so they meet code result in a fire.
  5. Lack of resources for fire safety: Fire services are ill equipped in providing adequate fire safety cover to the population. There is a huge deficiency of firefighting infrastructure.
  6. Lack of awareness among people: There are many offices/high rise buildings/mandir and religious places having firefighting equipment installed but hardly any person has the knowledge of using them.

Fire Service in India

  • Fire service is a state subject and has been included as municipal function in the XII schedule of the Constitution. The municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services in many states.
  • In view of the shortcomings in the fire services in different states of the country and the need to upgrade it, the GoI in 1956 formed a Standing Fire Advisory Committee (SFAC) under the MHA.
  • The mandate of the committee was to examine the technical problems relating to fire services and to advise the GoI for speedy development and upgradation of fire services all over the country. This committee was renamed as Standing Fire Advisory Council (SFAC) in 1980.
  • However various central agencies like railway can also issue guidelines and undertake the necessary actions to implement guidelines for effective compliance.
  • National Building Code of India covers the detailed guidelines for construction, maintenance and fire safety of the structures. The Code specifies construction, occupancy and protection features that are necessary to minimize danger to life and property from fire. National Building Code of India is published by Bureau of Indian Standards and it is recommendatory document.

Preventive measures to reduce fire risks

  1. Enactment of a Fire Act in every state: Many states do not have a comprehensive Fire Act. The GoI had prepared a draft model Fire Bill and circulated to all the states way back in 1958. The states which have not enacted their own Fire Act should immediately enact a suitable Fire Act within a year.
  2. Various necessary provisions in the Fire Act: The legal regime in the Fire Act to prevent fire hazard should provide for mandatory clearance from the fire service department for all high-rise buildings, residential clusters, colonies, business centers, malls etc. that they are self-sufficient in firefighting capabilities.
  3. Architecture and layout: The design and architecture can prove as a turning point in case of a fire breakout. An architecture planner must make sure that there is ample of open space in the building to minimize the possibilities of spreading fire in the entire building.
  4. Fire safety plan: A well-charted and detailed action plan which everyone needs to follow in case of a fire breakout. Fire drills must be carried out on a regular basis to make sure that staff and residents must know how to respond during emergency situations.
  5. Fire detection equipment: Fire detection is the first step towards preventing fire hazards. Fire detection equipment such as heat detector, smoke detector, fire gas detector, flame detector, etc. installed at important locations. Not only the installation of fire detection equipment is essential, it must also be ensured that these devices are working properly by checking them on a timely basis.
  6. Fire audit survey: A fire safety audits should be mandatory to make sure that the adequate fire prevention measures are observed. If the authority recommends any changes, it should be implemented diligently.
  7. Maintenance of electrical wiring and equipment: Faulty wiring systems can be a cause of fire outbreak. To prevent fires from electrical equipment, maintenance must be carried out at least once in a month and other electrical equipment that can lead to fire hazard must also be properly maintained.
  8. Building awareness among citizens: Organising firefighting workshop once in six months in localities/mohallas/schools with the involvement of local councellor/elected representatives is one way to achieve the aforementioned. Awareness among citizen should be generated towards general precautions and safety measures relating to a potential danger
  9. Financial support to fire safety department: The government should provide financial support and assistance in augmenting and modernising the fire departments. For urban areas fire tax / levy could be provided for and the revenue so generated should be earmarked for the improvement and upkeep of the fire services over and above the normal governmental financial support required by the fire service.
  10. Improve the outreach of the Fire Services: Fire stations / posts should at least be established right up to the sub-divisional level in the beginning and ultimately to the block and the Gram Panchayat level with proper infrastructure, and equipment as per norms laid down by the SFAC.
  11. Rain water harvesting: Considering the growing water shortages all over the country, rain water harvesting may also be considered wherever possible and required.

Source: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/urbanisation/20-indian-cities-saw-80-of-building-fire-deaths-63261

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