Fire tragedies waiting to happen in Capital

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

High-rises not following safety advice

NEW DELHI: Fire disasters like the one in Bangalore this week are waiting to happen in many high-rise buildings here across the Capital.

In many of them the stairwells, staircases and exit doors remain locked and the estate officers or building in-charges have not responded to appeals and directions to rectify these mistakes.

So thousands of offices located in these buildings and lakhs of people working in them are in real danger.

A note circulated by the District Disaster Management Authority of New Delhi in January this year to 176 buildings in the area had noted that since this past December there have already been four major fires at Connaught Place in the heart of the Capital but fortunately there were no casualties.

A fire had broken out on the third floor of Thapar House on December 3 and another on the fourth floor of DCM Building on Barakhamba Road three days later.

Then on December 10 a major fire broke out in Assam Emporium on Baba Kharak Singh Marg.

On January 20, a fire damaged property on the second floor of G-7 building of TDI.

But despite the frequency of fires being so high, the building owners and managers in this area have not bothered to even respond to a feedback form given to them during a sensitisation programme this past September in which basic details about smoke detectors, batteries, extinguisher examination or conduct of smoke escape drill were asked.

“Locked stairwells”

“Often people die in locked stairwells, staircases, exit doors of high-rise buildings or office complexes. Though the flames do not reach the victims who perish in such disasters, the smoke from the fire does. The fire-fighters often respond quickly but do not get to them in time to save them because of traffic hazards,” said the note sent out by the Authority.

A senior officer said while in government buildings the passages and corridors are usually not encroached upon and at the most have some almirahs kept in them, in many of the private buildings these common spaces and also basements have been converted into offices.

The Authority had also suggested that “if employees were to have some kind of fire mask or hood they would be able to move through the smoke to safety or to another room or floor and will then be able to successfully exit the building”.

Inhalation of gases

This was considered important as 75 per cent of all fatalities from fires are caused by inhalation of smoke and gases, especially carbon monoxide.

While these buildings house the offices of almost all big realtors and other private sector companies, the level of response has left the authorities bewildered and angry: “There is a view in the Government that some of the buildings owners or managers should be booked for not complying with the orders of a statutory authority and the matter be taken to court with all the sincerity so that these managers and owners are made more accountable.”

In the meantime, the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy has demanded that a special law be brought to punish the owners and managers of buildings for such man-made disasters.

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