Sunday, July 20, 2014

What are we doing about it?

Day in and day out we read about devastating fires - not only in old buildings but also in modern, high-tech, new buildings. One fire at Elphinstone Road took place in a new building occupied just 6 months back. The building was new, but it was the same old story - the fire fighting equipment was non-functional.

Just last week I had visited the building in Andheri West which has grabbed  everyone's  attention because of its Star occupants. But the cause of all the media attention was a very huge fire. During my visit I was very impressed with the building's facade and the 5 Star ambiance , the excellent lobby , an excellent conference room etc. But the fire exposed the ugly under-belly - the fire fighting equipment was not working !

The cost of these disasters is huge in terms of lives lost, families devastated, businesses disrupted, livelihoods affected, valuables and documents destroyed, furniture and fixtures burnt to ash.

After every disaster, the blame game goes on till we get tired reading about it. Today's newspaper proclaims that the committee formed to suggest remedies has submitted its report 5 years back, but predictably it has not been acted upon and is gathering dust.

The BMC has made it compulsory to have a fire audit every 6 months, but there is no provision in the law to prosecute defaulters ! And since no action can be taken, most complex managements do not bother about it.

My question  to you - should we do the audit because it is required by law or should we do it for the safety of our near & dear ones?

After every disaster, BMC takes a tough posture and proclaims that people responsible will be prosecuted. Never mind that it never happens. But should we wait for BMC to prosecute people responsible for maintaining the mandatory fire fighting equipment? What can we, as residents do to prevent such calamities from happening in our own premises?

For starters, we can use our upcoming AGMs to ask some probing questions:
Does the Society have a disaster management plan?
Have the mandatory fire audit and structural audit (if applicable) been carried out?
Is the fire fighting equipment in working order?
Are the security personnel trained in handling the equipment?
Have any mock safety drills been conducted?
Have radiant signages been put marking fire exits?

On their part, Managing Committees can ensure that appropriate fire fighting equipment is installed and more importantly, tested regularly. They can conduct mock drills, appoint floor marshals from amongst the members, train some volunteers to handle the fire fighting equipment. Remember, any fire can be contained if prompt action is taken. Conversely, as the Lotus Business Park tragedy has shown, even a small fire can flare up if timely action is not taken. The quickest to reach and respond are the occupants - you and we. We should equip ourselves to handle such situations. A small fire extinguisher in the house can be a very big advantage. At the same time, we must work with our building managements to ensure that if things go out of hand, our fire fighting equipment is in working order. After all it is in our own interest