Delhi

A towering problem

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Millennium City has hundreds of high-rise buildings that measure well over 100 metres, but the city’s fire department has just one 42-metre hydraulic lift and 200 personnel to deal with any tragedy

Measuring 175 metres, Ireo Victor Valley, a residential project in Sector 67, is the tallest building in Millennium City that has been granted a No Objection Certificate (NOC) by the Gurugram Fire Department. But it may soon lose its record to Raheja Revanta, an upcoming 61-floor residential project in Sector 78, or M3M’s Trump Towers, a residential project in Sector 65 off Golf Course Extension.

Besides these projects, there are a hundreds of buildings across the city measuring over 100 metres.

The Gurugram Fire Department seems ill-equipped to deal with any major tragedy as it has just a single hydraulic lift, measuring just 42 metres; 30-odd fire tenders and a staff strength of 200, including some outsourced.

It has just 46 regular staff members, including 15 leading firemen, eight firemen and 12 drivers. It also has 159 outsourced staff members, including 92 firemen, 54 drivers and one fire consultant. The district has six fire stations and 38 fire vehicles, including 14 water bowzers, one water tender, four foam tenders, five small tenders and three rescue tenders. It also has seven water mist motorcycles to deal with small fires and reach congested areas. It also has 80 fire proximity suits.

Assistant Divisional Fire Officer, I.S. Kashyap, with several decades of service under his belt, maintained that the department was prepared well enough that it would not throw up its hands when face with a major incident, “kam se kam kisi bhi paristhiti main hum poori tarah haath nahi uthayenge”.

The officer recalled a four-month-old incident when a fire broke out in a flat on the 17th floor of a building in Sector 31 and they had to seek help from DLF’s fire station, which has a 90-metre-long hydraulic lift, to evacuate people. The building’s fire system was fortunately operational and no deaths were reported, he added.

Besides DLF, Maruti Suzuki India Limited, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India Limited, two Air Force stations and Haldiram, a popular snacks and sweets brand, also own a couple of fire tenders and staff each, and work in cooperation with the Gurugram Fire Department in case of any major incidents.

Rule violations

Though the fire official does not see much of a challenge in terms of fire-fighting in New Gurugram, which is dotted mostly with group housing societies that largely adhere to fire safety norms and are built as per approved building plans, single staircases in several societies and the locking of doors to the terrace remain two major concerns.

As per the Haryana Fire Service Act, all residential multi-storey buildings must have two staircases to allow alternative exit to the residents in the event of a fire, but the buildings, with plans approved by the Department of Town and Country Planning, have only one.

“The matter came to light in 2017 when we rejected NOC to a few group housing societies for not having two staircases. Since the buildings were constructed with approved building plans, they were given provisional certificates following the intervention of the Chief Minister. But it has now been made mandatory for all buildings constructed after February 2014 to have two staircases and a Fire Department official is appointed to the committee to approve the building plans,” said Mr. Kashyap, adding that not many group housing societies now have single staircases. The minimum width of the staircase should be 1,200 mm.

Worrying trend

Locking of doors to the terrace over fears that someone may leap off or to prevent couples, mainly domestic workers, from indulging in romantic activities, is also a worrisome trend. A young woman interior designer died due to asphyxia at Tulip Orange group housing society in Sector 69 last year after she tried to escape to the terrace after a fire in the building, but found the door locked. “Going to the terrace is a good option in case of a fire in a building. It prevents death due to asphyxia and the people can be easily rescued. We have been creating awareness among Residents’ Welfare Associations on this and advised them to instal CCTVs on terraces to keep a vigil on unwanted activities. It has helped,” said the officer.

Illegal activities

In 1979, when he was a young fireman, Mr. Kashyap recalled attending to a fire in the middle of the night and almost single-handedly dousing an inferno in a shop.

When the shop owner came to him the next day offering ₹100 as reward, the officer found that a portion of the establishment was filled with crackers and he actually had a narrow escape. Mr. Kashyap said that such illegal hoarding of inflammable material was the biggest challenge to firefighting, even bigger than unauthorised colonies and the crowded markets.

Dundahera on the Old Delhi-Gurugram Road is a major area where illegal hoarding is a problem, said Mr. Kashyap. Though a residential area, garment units run illegally from the basements of several houses, posing a serious threat. Last year, four persons were injured when a boiler exploded in the basement of a building next to the local police station.

Ticking bomb

Sadar Bazar – one of the oldest market areas housing grocery, stationery, sweets and garments shops — is a “ticking bomb”, added Mr. Kashyap.

The market, located near Civil Lines, has narrow lanes and low-lying tangled electric wires, which makes it nearly impossible for fire tenders to reach the site of fire. The market is not only haphazardly developed, but the basements of the shops are stuffed with highly inflammable material such as clothes, ghee, oil, cooking gas cylinders, stationery and furniture, he added.

Mr. Kashyap recalled how during an inspection to a Sadar Bazar shop for fire NOC, he found one basement stuffed with two dozen cooking gas cylinders, match boxes and a large number of bidis.

Since there is ambiguity in law over the need for fire NOC for buildings less than 15 metres in height, the shops in Sadar Bazar do not have fire NOCs.

The officer said that making trade licences mandatory for shopkeepers in Sadar Bazar could bring them under the ambit of the Fire Department. The department has written to the government seeking clarity on law for buildings below 15 metres in height.

As a pre-emptive measure, the Fire Department has launched a survey to identify buildings that have not procured or renewed fire NOCs. Earlier, the certificate had to be renewed every year, but now it holds good for five years. The law was amended in view of the workload, but the department can make surprise checks to ensure that the norms are being followed.

A Vastu Shastra expert recently visited Mr. Kashyap’s office and told him that the architecture of the fire station was in compliance with traditional beliefs and nothing could ever happen to harm its reputation.

“Sometimes despite the best efforts, things go wrong, bringing a bad name to a place. But nothing ever has gone wrong for this station and I am sure nothing ever will,” said Mr. Kashyap, sitting at his Sector 29 office, with the window on his right offering a view of the temple inside the station premises.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 3:04:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/a-towering-problem/article30308604.ece

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