The preliminary probe into the fire in an industrial godown in the heart of Kochi on Thursday has come out with the callousness with which building owners go about flouting every norm in building code and the inability of the law enforcing agencies to crack down on them. Unless the govt tightens awareness and enforcement, there will be more instances of fire accidents which may prove costly.
KOCHI: The six-storey building which caught fire at the heart of Kochi the other day was not allowed to build a godown as the NOC given by the Fire and Rescue department in 2006 was for building that can house shops or residential facility. This, and the series of issues that came during a probe after the mishap, portray a chilling story of how laws and rules on safety are bent in the state, leading to accidents.
"Many buildings change its category and make alterations after getting the NOC. Making alterations after getting NOC is the major reason behind buildings turning vulnerable to fire these days," an official with the fire department said. "The aluminium sheets placed on the floors of the building were a major violation and it affected the fire fighting activities as well."
There are strict fire safety norms with respect to high-rise buildings but many follow them only in their violation.
In a preliminary probe, the officials found that the firefighting system inside the building was defunct. No one at the building was able to operate the firefighting system as it was damaged and they ran away from the floors in fear immediately after the fire was spread. According to fire officials, it is highly necessary that the workers, staff members or the people residing in the building must know how to operate the fire safety systems installed in the building.
Besides, there was no water in the tank and pipes were simply kept for years without any maintenance.
R. Prasad, director (technical), Fire and Rescue department, said that the materials in the godown were dumped everywhere without any concern of the house keeping. "There was a bulk amount of rubber-footwear that were kept on the staircases as well, which increased the magnitude of the fire that spread all across the building. The items created obstruction and stopped the firemen to go up through stairs," he said.
"In market places, especially during the festival seasons, flame spread materials are dumped everywhere and we have been seeing portable generators functioning in between them. We have given warnings and notices every time, but they won't obey. Nobody concerns about the safety; they are so overconfident about the occurrence of any mishaps."
Mr. Prasad said Kerala will be another Delhi if people are not aware about the proper precautionary measures. "In Delhi, the culture to build high-rise buildings was started long ago and those ageing structures are getting damaged without repairs, including the firefighting system. The recent fire that claimed the lives of 28 people is one of its results. If we are not aware of the precautionary measures at least now, we can expect the same in Kerala soon," he said.
According to Mr. Prasad, to avoid any such mishap, the owner should issue a written statement of the building's policy regarding fire safety and fire loss control to its employees. Use of gas mask, location of fire escape, etc. should be given to the employees at regular intervals. The owner should institute programme whereby close watch is kept to see that no escape routes are blocked, all fire doors are kept in closed position, on day-to-day basis, he said.
"The owner or the management should institute preventive inspection, testing and maintenance programme and installation of all fire protection and fire fighting systems in accordance with National Building Code of India and all Machinery & Equipment, which may cause fires," he said.
He also said very few people burn to death in fires as most fatalities come from smoke inhalation. "Avoiding excessive exposure to smoke should be a paramount concern during a fire," he said.
Mr Prasad also said they are ready to impart training to the people and employees if they approach the department. The people who install the firefighting systems can also train them, he said....