#SecureSpaces: India needs to take a stronger stance on fire safety and prevention

In 2015, a total of 17,700 fire accident-related deaths occurred in India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2016 report Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India. Maharashtra and Gujarat, two highly-urbanized states, account for close to 30% of the country’s fire accident deaths. In fact, between December 2017 and early January of this year, Mumbai witnessed as many as five deadly fire accidents including a fire in the Sessions court building in Fort. Not to forget the tragedy at the Kamala Mills compound that claimed 14 lives on December 29, 2017.

Fire tragedies have been on the rise in recent years across the nation, and Mumbai remains a major contributor to this statistic. Post the Kamala Mills tragedy, several commercial buildings, restaurants, and bars are yet to comply with fire safety norms and take proactive measures to prevent fires of such magnitude.

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The brutal truth is we haven’t learned our lessons from major fire incidents like the Uphaar Cinema fire in 1997 or the recent fire at Kamala Mills. Every fire-related tragedy underscores the need to make fire safety a priority in our country. Fires like the one at Kamala Mills should NOT be just another tragic story in the journey of India going forward. The future of fire safety in India, therefore, rests in establishing and implementing global best practices, generating awareness about the need for fire prevention measures, addressing the disconnect that exists among policymakers, citizens, and private entities, and in establishing strong public-private partnerships.

Considering this critical need of the hour, Godrej Security Solutions brought together a panel of concerned and proactive thought leaders and stakeholders from the public and private realm at the Godrej #SecureSpaces Fire Safety Conclave in April. The objective of this panel discussion was to educate and impart knowledge about fireproof spaces, how to leverage technology for smart security, and how to take precautionary measures to prevent fire.

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“We need to be more proactive when it comes to fire safety and security, instead of being reactive. As a society, we tend to blame others, but it’s time to start looking inwards. We recognized the urgent need to spearhead a fire safety discussion and generate awareness about the technological advancements in the security solutions industry. #SecureSpaces is a path towards creating awareness about fire safety, and we want more people to know about it and act on it,” said Mehernosh Pithawala, VP and Head of B2C International Business at Godrej.

There is, undoubtedly, a fundamental problem when it comes to dealing with crisis situations like fire. Government entities need to ensure that permissions granted are implemented properly and no repairs or alterations to buildings are conducted without the necessary approvals. Simultaneously, ordinary citizens have to start asking the right questions and taking these issues seriously. They need to be angry and they need to voice their anger about the right issues; they can’t let their resilience become a liability, said Sanjay Jha, National Spokesperson, India National Congress, in his opening address at the conclave.

From flawed policies and poor enforcement of regulations to lack of standardization of fire safety and building norms, and cramped conditions; these are just a few things that play a big role in such tragedies. For instance, every city has specific building by-laws regulating fire norms like the Development Control Regulations for Mumbai Metropolitan Region 2016-2036 and the Andhra Pradesh Building Rules 2017.

All of these different laws need to be documented; every citizen must have access to these laws and every building must have fire safety manuals on their notice boards.  We must make it easier for the common man to raise questions if they see anybody flouting the rules, added Hafeez Contractor, one of India’s leading architects.

Norms not only need to be established, they also need to be followed.

Now, one of the leading causes of fire is electrical short circuits. These can happen either because fire risk assessments haven’t been done regularly, or because electrical load monitoring and maintenance hasn’t been done, revealed Burzin Sarbhanwala, Senior Risk Management Expert, ICICI General Insurance, who was also a panellist at the conclave. Fire risk assessments need to be done at least once in six months. Not only that, once the assessment has been done, the recommendations need to be implemented, accepted by every stakeholder, and tracked over a period of time, Sarbhanwala added.

In rapidly-growing cities like Mumbai, the growth of commercial spaces and urban centres is inevitable. But it’s important for stakeholders to come together to share ideas, and then use those ideas to take concrete steps to make ourselves fire resistant. “Fire incidents are going to happen. But the big question is how do we mitigate the risks? It’s encouraging to see big brands like Godrej take up the gauntlet of raising awareness,” said #SecureSpaces panel moderator and 94.3 Radio One presenter Hrishikesh Kanan.

It’s time to stop knee-jerk reactions to show that something is being done; instead, we need to be highly self-regulated and ensure that all laws at the city, state, and national level are integrated, and are strictly enforced, said Anubhav Gupta, Chief Design Officer and Business Head of CSR and Sustainability at Godrej Properties Ltd. The truth is until the basics—like infrastructure changes, up-to-date firefighting equipment, adequate training and awareness, fire risk assessments, and periodic fire drills—are taken care of, more such tragedies are waiting to happen.

This is a partnered post.


Updated Date: Jul 31, 2018 16:28 PM

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