With the festive season nearing, shopping areas in Purasawalkam and George Town are gearing up to meet the rush. But not all of them are equipped to tackle an emergency, if awareness of safety mechanisms in these localities is any indication.
Though shop-owners claim that they are equipped to handle emergencies, customers are not aware of fire-fighting equipment as they are not to be seen in many of the shops. K.Nandeswaran of Kosapet said that of late many large showrooms have sprung up in Purasawalkam worsening the traffic congestion. “Whenever I visit a shop, be it small or big, I do not see fire extinguishers or fire alarms,” he said.
Besides the busy Purasawalkam High Road which has rows of commercial establishments, narrow lanes such as Sundaram Street and Vellala Street in Purasawalkam also have several shops.
However, G.Sivakumar who runs a garment shop on Purasawalkam High Road, said: “I have kept a fire extinguisher as it is mandatory to get a no objection certificate from the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services before seeking a trade licence. My staff members know how to use it.”
A.M.Mastan Bai of Mookathal Street said “I have been here for over 30 years. Fire accidents occur very rarely, probably because the shops are not congested as compared with other commercial localities.”
Owners of shops on Bunder Street, Anderson Street and Badrian Street in George Town, the wholesale hub of fire crackers sales, are busy preparing to get licences. S.Babu, who frequents the area for business, suggested that shops dealing with inflammable products be shifted to prevent fire accidents. Parking regulation could put an end to congestion and provide more space for pedestrians.
A.Sait Mohammed, president of Fire Crackers Dealers Welfare Association, said there have been fire accidents in recent years. However, they were not major ones. Nearly 150 shops sell fire crackers during festival season.
Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) insists on certain measures before issuing licence, including a space of 3 m between shops and a ban on sales of crackers in shops located facing each other. “We do not allow any source of fire. We are willing to move out if the State government can construct and allot shops as in the case of Koyambedu market,” he added.
Ramesh Sheth, president of the Federation of Madras Merchants and Manufacturers Association, said that awareness is being created by the association about fire safety measures through meetings. However, not many are aware of the risks. Provision of parking facility such as the upcoming multi-level parking facility in Broadway would ease congestion in the area. The authorities concerned must also take steps to regulate the number of shops coming up in the area.
G.N.Venkatsivasubramaniam, honorary safety consultant for TNFRS, said the number of fire calls from George Town during Deepavali season has been declining following emphasis on awareness creation. The authorities concerned must conduct periodical safety audits and enforce norms to reduce fire accidents, he added.
Officials of TNFRS said nearly 1,000 applications are expected to be received for the fire licence. It has already received 12 applications from south Chennai and six from suburban areas. A total of 72 shops in and around Bunder street have licence to sell fire crackers.
Apart from 33 fire stations, TNFRS has identified 23 points across the city to station fire tenders. Awareness programmes would also be held in schools and commercial areas about fire safety.