Negligence in fire prevention
The fire in a hotel on Shakespeare Sarani in Central Kolkata in the early hours of Thursday in which two persons died and six injured, has once again exposed the laxity of the Kolkata Corporation and the Fire Brigade authorities. As in the AMRI Hospital fire at Dhakuria in December, 2011 in which about 90 persons were choked to death, the dead and the injured in the hotel were also victims of choking by toxic gas. On preliminary inquiry it has been established that the hotel did not have proper fire-fighting arrangement. The hotel was virtually a closed glass cage from which neither the boarders could escape in an emergency nor the billowing smoke caused by a fire. The number of casualties might have been much higher. Fortunately, a big tragedy was averted.
High-rise buildings of every type – from apartment houses to offices to hotels and hospitals – are mushrooming in this city. Very few of them meet the standard requirements of fire fighting but get building permission and later completion certificate without any difficulty. It is only when there is a fire and people are trapped inside that there is a hue and cry which dies down in no time and nobody bothers till the next such accident happens. In March, 2010, a devastating fire broke out in the high-rise Stephen Court in Park Street, killing 43 persons. The Fire Brigade had acquired a high ladder at a huge cost just to deal with such situations. But when the Stephen Court fire broke out the ladder could not be initially found and when found it took a good deal of time to reach the spot.
The police are now obsessed with installing CCTV cameras everywhere – in thoroughfares, parks, offices, hotels, hospitals, department stores, even within passenger buses. The purpose is to keep an eye on the movement of every citizen. But very perfunctory attention is paid to fire prevention measures which are a matter of life and death. The fire in the Shakespeare Sarani hotel has brought to light several facts. The entrance to the foyer was narrow. The fire alarm did not work, nor did a drop of water fall from the water sprinklers attached to the ceiling precisely to meet such emergency situations. The staff did not have even preliminary training in fire fighting. Obviously when the civic body gave licence to the hotel, its officers had been negligent in their duties. Unless fire fighting measures are strictly enforced and periodically checked, recurrence of such accidents cannot be prevented.