With the mushrooming of high-rise buildings in all metros, it is scary to think of the built-in disasters waiting to happen. Fire drills have to be in place, warns D. Ajitha Simha

For those living in high-rises, the fire drill is a very important safety aspect. governing fire safety of people.

The NBC (National Building Code) has extensively covered guidelines for fire drill and evacuation procedures for high-rise buildings.

Utmost importance

Unfortunately they have been completely ignored by all, including the occupants, the fire department and the property management agency. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to conduct fire drills to create awareness among all concerned about the hazard which may lead to fatalities.

This may also help the occupants themselves to start evacuation of people in the event of a blaze without waiting for the fire personnel to arrive.

According to the NBC, fire drills shall be conducted once in three months. At least for a start the drill can be started once in six months.

Fire officer

Each high-rise shall have a fire officer with experience available on the premises. With the mushrooming of high-rises in all metros, it is scary to think of the built-in disasters waiting to happen.

Aspects of a fire drill

* At least 40 per cent of the occupants of a building should be trained in fire prevention, fire fighting and evacuation procedures by the local fire brigade. This is actually incorporated by the fire department while issuing a no objection certificate for occupying the building. If such training is imparted the occupants themselves could save a lot of lives.

* A fire safety plan should be prepared and available all the time.

* A few leaders among the trainees should be identified to fight the fire, so that they can organise a systematic evacuation without causing panic and also start fighting the fire with appliances available to thwart spread of fire. Panic is the worst cause of fatalities.

* A fire drill should be announced to check the reactions of the occupants in the event of an actual fire.

The sequence of fire drill could be

1) inform the fire brigade immediately that fire is noticed giving the location of the building and the location of fire

2) the leaders already designated should rush to the public address system and announce the same and ask all the occupants to remain calm and wait for further instructions, and not panic and rush out

3) ask the occupants of the floor on fire, those in above and immediately below to go to the staircase for going down, and not use the lift.

4) Alert the other trainees to help evacuate the elderly and children

5) Direct some more trainees to operate the fire fighting equipment to fight the fire and prevent its spread.

6) All these operations should be undertaken simultaneously and accomplished in about 15 minutes.

This is because the fire brigade cannot normally arrive before 15 minutes after notification of fire.

7) The high-rise should have an internal storage of water to fight fire for at least 15 minutes. And residents need to be aware of using the equipment to draw water and fight fire. After 15 minutes the fire brigade can take over and draw water from the street hydrants if available or other sources.

Periodic inspection

For all this to happen on expected lines, a periodic inspection has to be in place, and all vulnerable fire hazards have to be removed. Clear passage ways, maintain fire fighting equipment and clear all encroachments that would disturb access to the building. But everything is ignored.

The fire brigade, after issuing the no-objection certificate, pleads inability to undertake periodic inspection for various reasons, including inadequacy of staff. The residents are unaware of the need for periodic inspection from the point of view of fire safety.

Therefore the solution lies in asking some external inspection agencies of repute to inspect the premises based on the requirements of the NBC, at least once a year to gather more knowledge about the conditions prevalent and inform both the fire office and the owners of the building about the lacunae in terms of fire safety.

(to be continued…)

(The author is Retd. Dy. Director-General, Bureau of Indian Standards, New Delhi; and former U.N. Consultant for Basic Approach to Writing of Building Code, Habitat Centre, Nairobi, Kenya)

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