The Gariahat fire

The fire in a multi-storeyed building at the Gariahat crossing in Kolkata that destroyed a large number of shops is one more episode in a disgustingly familiar series. The fire breaks out and in course of the subsequent inquiry it is invariably found that easily inflammable substances like plastic sheets were stored/used, there was no fire fighting equipment in the building, no water storage tanks, the stairs blocked with sundry things, huge heaps of live electrical wire hanging and waiting for a short circuit to trigger off a fire and that the fire brigade people were  blissfully unaware that a potential inferno existed right under their nose in one of the busiest commercial districts of the city. There has been a number of such fires in the city over the last few years: the Mirzapur Street fire, the Hatibagan Market fire, the Bagri Market fire, the Stephen Court fire on Park Street and in each case after the initial hullabaloo everything was quietly forgotten. Fortunately there was no loss of life at the Gariahat fire.
After the fire, Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim has said pavement shops will no longer be allowed to use plastic sheets as roof and wall, that the shop-owners will have to vend their products in trolley carts that can be moved and regular fire audit will be made. Could all these measures not have been taken before the accident? Even now several questions remain. Promoter-developers have filled up almost all water bodies within the city and these have been built upon. In every case of fire in congested localities, the fire brigade has to lay long pipes to bring water from distant sources to douse the fire. In such circumstances, the necessity of having storage of water in big buildings becomes imperative. But neither the house owners, nor the fire brigade people, nor the police, nor the civic body does anything about it. Yet another problem often faced by the firefighters is the difficulty in bringing and using big ladders to fight fire in high-rise buildings for which they are meant. This was seen in the Stephen Court fire where there were many obstacles to bringing and using the special ladder acquired at a high cost precisely to meet such exigencies.
Kolkata and Kolkata Metropolitan Urban Conglomerate dare bursting at the seams with population. With the expansion of the Metro network in the next couple of years, this number will further increase. All concerned authorities should put their heads together as to how best and how quickly big fires can be tackled even if cases accidental fire cannot be eliminated.

Monday, 21 January, 2019