More than 100 fire calls were reported from T. Nagar, George Town, Purusawalkam in 2012

The three shopping districts in the city accounted for over 100 fire emergency calls in 2012.

According to statistics obtained from the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS), the T. Nagar fire station reported around 200 calls of which 44 were fire-related.

NSC Bose Road in George Town and Purasawalkam came next with 38 and 25 fire calls during the same period. Though the distress calls were mostly about small fires with no major casualty, they highlight the risk posed by busy and unplanned commercial spaces as the festive season approaches.

A fire station was established in T. Nagar in December 2010 following a series of discussions, meetings and training sessions with shopkeepers and traders in the area. Similar exercises were taken up in several crowded areas, including NSC Bose Road and Purusawalkam. These measures came about after two employees perished in a fire at Saravana Stores in September 2008.

As T. Nagar is heavily congested, the fire station was also equipped with motorcycle-mounted fire extinguishers to manoeuvre narrow lanes, save time and thus reduce damage. But concerns remain, over the impact a fire can have on residential buildings sandwiched in the locality.

Despite investing in technology, fears of a major fire are real as cardinal building rules are often flouted in the city. While TNFRS officers insist it is important to have enough room for fire tenders to enter a building, most shops violate the norm.

“In the event of a fire in such congested areas, the neighbouring buildings too will feel the impact of the heat. This is the reason we insist on a 7-metre setback space for each building. Then there would be enough space on either side to prevent fire from spreading,” said S. Vijayasekar, deputy director, northern region.

The experience of rescue personnel who battled a fire in New Delhi brought home the need to maintain a setback space exclusive of parking lots, he said.

According to the Second Master Plan of Chennai Metropolitan Area 2026, “The space specified above shall be kept open to sky and free from any erection/projection (such as sunshade/balcony) of any building other than a fence or compound wall provided that these open yards may be used for the provision of accessways to the building’s parking facilities.”

Unfortunately, even the newest buildings in T. Nagar do not adhere to these rules. A building that is yet to open on Duraisami Road allows two-wheeler parking along its setback space.

Since the TNFRS has the authority only to issue a no-objection certificate, it is the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority and the Corporation that should ensure fire safety rules are followed, experts said.

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