Urban Fires

APR 5

Mains   > Disaster Management   >   Disaster mitigation   >   Man made disasters

WHY IN NEWS:

  • The blaze in the Eastern Railway headquarters in Kolkata on the 8th March 2021, is a textbook case of poor attention to fire safety basics and the absence of robust fire mitigation technologies in the country

BACKGROUND:

  • Fire service is a state subject and has been included as municipal function in the XII schedule of the Constitution.
  • The municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services in many states.
  • According to NCRB data 48 Indians dies every day due to fire accidents, of those who died, 62% were women.
  • Maharashtra and Gujarat, the two most highly urbanised states, account for about 30% of the country’s fire accident deaths.
  • Outbreak of fire poses major risks and ranks at third position in the India Risk Survey 2018

ISSUES:

  • Less number of fire stations:
    • A study sponsored by the Ministry of Home Affairs reported that a minimum of 8,599 fire stations are needed in India; however, only 2,087 are in place.
  • Shortage of man power and infrastructure:
    • A study sponsored by the Ministry of Home Affairs outlined that India has shortage of 5 lakh trained fire individuals, 2 lakh firefighting equipment, and 9000 firefighting vehicles and units.
  • Violation of rules:
    • Violation of safety norms and lack of standardisation and regulation is a major cause of fire accidents, as large scale construction of false roofs in commercial buildings and multiplexes is against the national building construction code.
  • Lack of legal backing:
    • In many states even today a comprehensive Fire Act does not exist.
  • Low coverage:
    • The fire-fighting capabilities exist mostly in the urban and semi-urban areas.
    • Covering the rural areas against the fire hazard has always been a serious issue
  • Increasing number of high rise buildings due to land crunch:
    • High rise buildings are more prone to fire accidents as they lack an adequate in-built fire protection system that makes salvaging operations difficult.
  • Poor industrial designs:
    • Poorly stored goods, even though they are not flammable, helps to spread fire and hinder fire fighters gain access to the seat of the fire or reduce the effectiveness of sprinkler systems.
  • Poor fire audit mechanism:
    • Unclear provisions of fire safety audit in terms of scope, objective, methodology and periodicity of a fire safety audit.
  • Lack of awareness:
    • Lack of awareness about the safety arrangements before purchasing or hiring a flat in an apartment or before starting an institution.
  • Faulty wiring:
    • PUF (polyurethane foam) used for plastic insulation carries a high risk of accidental fire as most of the times it is exposed to electrical wiring which on becoming heated due to overloading or short circuit catches fire immediately.
  • Failure in urban planning:
    • A mix of bad regulations and compromised enforcement machinery and powerful interest groups >> makes the urban planning inconsistent with fire safety requirements
  • Technological issues:
    • Urban cities have failed to invest in LIDAR-based (Light Detection and Ranging) technologies that can be used to aerially keep a track of setbacks and the presence of fire exits.
  • Lack of R and D:
    • Unfortunately in India, as far as fire hazard is concerned, many of the modern, useful and effective technologies are imported >> this is due to lack of Research and Development (R&D) efforts in this area in the country.
    • This makes the equipment prohibitively costly and difficult to procure.

STEPS TAKEN FOR MANAGEMENT OF URBAN FIRE:

  • Institutional framework:
    • Ministry of Home Affairs plays an advisory role in effective maintenance and modernization of services
    • Standing Fire Advisory Council has laid down norms for establishments of fire stations, equipments, manpower etc.
    • Fire services in India comes under the Twelfth Schedule of the Constitution of India and it comes under the domain of Municipalities
  • National Building Code of India:
    • The code incorporate administrative and technical provisions which can be adopted by the States and local bodies to revise and revamp their building bye laws
    • It covers detailed guidelines for construction, maintenance abd fire safety of the structure
    • It is published by Bureau of Indian Standards
  • NDMA guidelines:
    • Comprehensive vulnerability assessment and action plan for state:
      • Identifying hazardous industries and fire prone areas and preparing a complete plan on total requirements of manpower and equipment for the entire State
    • Creating basic infrastructure:
      • Adequate number of fire stations, tackling water scarcity, improving coverage in rural area etc.
    • Use of modern technology:
      • Employing LIDAR-based (Light Detection and Ranging) technologies that can be used to aerially keep a track of setbacks and the presence of fire exits
      • Use of water mist technology >> to reduce the water requirement
    • Legislative reforms:
      • Introduction of model fire act and periodic updation of state laws
    • Community participation:
      • Organize the community in fire-fighting capabilities by providing a local platform for training, helping them and get equipped
    • Research and development:
      • It would be very useful, if the DRDO, IITs, NITs and other research organizations are able to utilize their expertise, capabilities and do some R&D work in this area to bring out innovative technology.
      • The private sector could also be encouraged to invest in research and development in this area.
    • Operationalisation of the 13th Finance Commission Report:
      • All Municipal Corporations with a population of more than one million must put in place a fire hazard response and mitigation plan
      • A portion of grant allocated by commission on ULBs may be spend on the revamping of fire services

WAY FORWARD:

  • Regular inspections
    • To ensure the presence of basic fire-fighting equipment as well as compliance with building norms
  • Creating basic infrastructure and adopting modern technologies:
    • New fire stations, their buildings and fire service posts will need to be set up as per norms of SFAC based on the vulnerabilities
    • Fire hydrants existing in the town also need to be checked regularly and ensured that they are functional
    • Proper demarcation of entry and exit points in crowded buildings
    • Installation of fire-fighting equipment and their regular maintenance
    • Periodic renewal of no-objection certificates by building owners in order to ensure fire preparedness.
    • Proper designing of electrical fittings and regular maintenance of wiring.
    • Utilize water mist technology:
      • Newer technologies which use very little water are being put in place.
      • Water mist technology is one such innovation >>The machine is so designed that water converts into mist and, when released on the fire, cuts off oxygen supply to the fire thus putting it out.
  • Tackling water scarcity:
    • Tapping natural water resources:
      • Scarcity of water is becoming more and more pronounced. For fire-fighting, water availability is a vital requirement and needs to be addressed.
      • All available natural resources of water may need to be surveyed and tapped
    • Rain water harvesting:
      • Considering the growing water shortages all over the country, rain water harvesting may also be considered wherever possible and required.
  • Legislation:
    • Considering the increasing vulnerabilities to fire all over the country, it is of utmost importance that every state enacts its own Fire Act so that fire vulnerabilities in the state are adequately dealt with and unacceptable loss of life and property is prevented
  • Modernisation of fire safety equipment:
    • Government should provide financial support and assistance in augmenting and modernising the fire departments
  • Awareness generation:
    • Building awareness among citizens about fire prevention and protection measures by organizing fire-fighting workshop periodically in localities with the involvement of elected representatives.
  • Conduct periodic fire safety audit:
    • Fire service departments should audit critical fire prone installations (like high rise buildings, multiplexes in congested areas) periodically and take appropriate actions against erring establishments.
  • Robust certification mechanism for buildings to ensure fire safety:
    • Certification of facilities through third-party audit should be made compulsory to eliminate conflicts of interest involving official agencies.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. Examine the techno-legal problems relating to urban fire management in India and suggest measures for the speedy development and upgradation of fire services all over the country?