Is your building safe from fire?
It is an unusual building which has fire safety mechanisms in place. Either builders break the laws or worse, the law bends. This is what a group of five activists found out when they inspected documents at the office of the Chief Fire Officer of Mumbai under RTI section 4. This information may be about Mumbai I doubt that other places are much better, except perhaps Delhi where I believe laws have been revamped, and authorities are becoming strict. In fact 70 more fire stations are coming up in Delhi.
Here is the deadly information about Mumbai:
- 8,000-odd hydrants in the city – 4,900 non-functional and the rest ignored because of uncertainties in water-pressure. Fire brigade prefers to ignore the entire system, relying on its own water tankers and foam tenders.
- 33 fire stations (international norms say 120). But only 3 of these 33 are adequately equipped. The others borrow equipment from other fire stations whenever there is an emergency wasting precious time!
- Serious problem of understaffing of the Mumbai Fire Brigade.
- Inability to get best equipment due to the tendering process taking an average of three years from the stage of requisitioning new equipment until the time it is delivered. By the time the equipment is delivered and operational, it’s already outdated.
Laws tampered with
As I mentioned earlier, laws have been bent – the authorities have issued circulars overriding existing laws. In reference to high-rises, the actual rules require builders to leave space around the buildings plus terraces at the upper levels but circulars issued in 1996 (for repairs of old buildings) did away with many crucial space requirements. In some cases, builders were allowed to leave no space at all, and in others, just about 5 feet of open space was permitted on some sides. In actuality the space requirements can range from 6-12 meters!
The extra space is needed for rescue operations. Another danger of buildings being close together is the danger of fires spreading.
The legal requirement of the No Objection Certificate from the Chief Fire Officer and/or the Municipal Corporation’s Occupation Certificate has been done away with in many cases! A circular issued says just pay a penalty of just Rs 50 per sq. m. for residential buildings and Rs 100 per sq. m. for non-residential ones and you can do without a certificate! Seems like a joke doesn’t it…
Fire risk at Industrial estates
- Fire escape routes enclosed
- Fire escape balcony encroached
- Common passages / corridor encroached
- Fire fighting installations not provided / not maintained
- Open spaces not adequate and found encroached
- Entrance gate inadequate
- Loft area exceeding permissible limits
- Windows enclosed by metal grills
- Staircases blocked by stored goods
So why is this allowed? It isn’t, and Notices are served, but if people don’t obey, their trade licenses are not cancelled. Instead they pay fines!! And you guessed right, they pay bribes too. The activists were told this by an outside source that bribes of Rs 300 per unit are collected.
Fire Risk at High-Rises
- Sprinkler systems, Fire-alarms and refuge-floors (must be available after every seven floors) are absent or non-functional
- Multiple basements for parking are 1) poorly ventilated and 2) difficult to access, both fire hazards. And as these are at the bottom of high-rises they constitute a danger to the whole building as lift shafts go down to the basement (in violation of fire-safety norms). In case of a fire the explosive fire, smoke and hot gases would travel unimpeded to each floor through the lift shaft.
You can imagine what the situation is like in temporary structures, like fairs and circuses. There was that horrible tragedy a couple of years ago in Meerut, when some large tents housing an exhibition caught fire. No fire safety norms were followed but unlike the case of Mumbai, it was city officials who had allowed it, not fire officials. A fire safety official did go to check what was happening but was ignored. This is what happened:
Organizers said, ‘We have the clearance from the district magistrate, so who are you?’ ” said Arun Chaturvedi, the city’s fire chief.
In Mumbai, it is the fire safety officials who allow breaking of fire safety norms.
So before you enter an exhibition tent or buy that apartment, or see a movie, best check if fire safety rules have been followed. Do you know what your building has or hasn’t? That is the question.
(Photo credits: The photograph is copyrighted to me)
(This post came about because of the information provided by the activist Krishnaraj Rao whose mail was forwarded to me by Vivek Khadpekar)