At 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, people who had come to the Secretariat gathered around the South block complex as soon as two fire engines zoomed in through the gate. While two rescue personnel, in no time, started putting out the white smoke coming from the building, masked officers rescued trapped people. There was all the commotion that one witnesses when a fire breaks out, but for the fact that the crowd was somewhat at ease and people were smiling at each other. By 3 p.m., there was no sign of the crowd, no commotion, and the South block stood with no trace of having been affected by a fire.

In what was a mock drill, the Fire and Rescue Services staged a demonstration of rescue operations during a fire in connection with the International Day for Disaster Reduction observance.

The exercise was organised by the Revenue and Disaster Management Department, in association with the State Disaster Management Authority; Fire and Rescue Services; Police, General Administration and Health departments; and the Secretariat Security Service.

Mary Kunju, Secretary, Department of Revenue and Disaster Management, said the main aim of the exercise was to measure the preparedness of the people in the event of a disaster, and train officials and the public to coordinate and work together in such situations.

As part of the drill, a fire alarm was given at 2.30 p.m. and artificial smoke created on the first floor of the building.

In the response phase, the employees used exit doors, about which they were previously informed, to escape from the building.

Following this, a headcount was taken to ensure that no one was trapped inside, R. Prasad, Fire and Rescue Services Divisional Officer, said.

“We had to rescue two persons who were trapped in the building. They were rescued using a rope and a ladder,” Reni Lukose, Assistant Divisional Officer, said.

The exercise was complete with the “injured” taken to an ambulance parked next to the scene of the accident where a team of doctors from Women and Children Hospital, Thycaud, “attended to the patients”.

“The employees should also be taught how to use fire extinguishers and such immediate measures of rescue. Timely rescue initiatives by the people at the place of accident are more important as we cannot ensure that fire engines reach us before much damage is done,” Satheesh Kumar, an employee at the Secretariat who was awarded a citation by the Chief Minister for his rescue initiatives in the 2005 fire at the Secretariat, said.

Mr. Prasad said though much of the equipment was not used for the mock drill, such drills and training in using equipment would be held in future to create awareness among the officials and the public.