The content of this open letter is not something you would possibly expect. It is not something your average voter will ask you to deliver if you are elected. More importantly, most citizens will know little about this issue but could surely be impacted.
I am a father who lost a young son in the 23 February 2010 Carlton Towers tragedy. I write to you on behalf of ‘Beyond Carlton’, a registered trust that was set up by the family members of those who were affected by the 23 Feb 2010 Carlton Towers tragedy.
Our aims include:
Creating awareness about fire safety among the citizens of Bangalore
Making concerned authorities accountable such that they work towards ensuring that Bangalore becomes as fire safe city
In this regard, we filed a PIL in the Karnataka High Court which resulted in the Government issuing a notification in July 2011 that made fire safety laws in the State more stringent.
An average of 63* people die in our country every day due to fire accidents. The number of people sustaining injuries in fire related accidents is higher. By the time you finish reading this letter, one person somewhere in India would have either lost his / her life to fire or would have been grievously injured. Nearly 4* people in Karnataka lose their lives to fire every day. In 2012 alone, 271* people in Bangalore died due to fire related incidents – far higher than Delhi or Chennai. This is not a statistic that our city can be proud of.
I now write to you with a question: If you get elected, what will you do to make Bangalore safer from fire accident?
In case, you, like most Bangaloreans, are unaware of the city’s lack of preparedness to handle fire hazards, the following information will give you a bird’s eye view into why we are so concerned; why we feel that we, as a city, are literally sitting on dry firewood that could catch fire anytime.
Along with the facts are a few specific questions. For you to think about – both as a citizen of Bangalore and as a possible representative in the Lok Sabha:
Karnataka State Budget allocations
The state has allocated Rs.178.18 crores for the fire department for 2014-15. I am given to understand that nearly 80% of this budget is for administrative and manpower costs, leaving only 20% for equipment and other expenses. Further, this reflects an increase of only 5.6% over the 2013-14 budget.
What would you do to ensure budgets for equipment and infrastructure of the fire department are top priority?
Bangalore needs to have at least 71 fire stations (roughly 1 station every 10 sq.km.). This is as per a Wilbur Smith report commissioned by the Karnataka State Fire & Emergency Services themselves in March 2011. Despite this, we currently have only 20 odd stations that are expected to service the needs of a 741 sq.kms city that is growing by the minute.
What will you do to increase the number of fire stations on a priority basis?
On the day of the Carlton Towers accident in February 2010, there was only one aerial ladder in Bangalore. And it could not reach the accident site on time. Four years later, we possibly have only two aerial ladders in Bangalore that can reach a height of 54 m. On the other hand, in the last six years alone, Bangalore has added 40 new super high-rise buildings that range from 70m to 153m in height with another 55 buildings of 20 floors and above being currently constructed. All adding up to 440 high-rise buildings! There is very clearly a mis-match between the number of aerial ladders needed as compared to the rapid high-rise growth in Bangalore.
What will you do to ensure that we have the optimum quantity of fire-fighting equipment required for our city?
Better coordination with other public utilities
Agencies like the traffic police, the fire department, and the ambulance service should work in tandem. There is however no established system in place to ensure such working together by these agencies during an emergency. This was one of the key inhibitors to quick response during the Carlton Towers tragedy.
How will you make this work far more effectively for this could mean the difference between life and death?
Better city planning
A city, as it grows, necessitates the expansion of all related departments, be it BWSSB, BESCOM or any other agency.
How will you ensure better city planning – how will you ensure that new layouts are sanctioned only once they have fire stations in the vicinity, like we do with water and electricity services?
First responders at accident site
There is an urgent need to develop a strong team of citizens who can be first responders at an accident site. These are people who can arrive at the site, often before the emergency services arrive. To refer back to the Carlton Towers tragedy, only people in the vicinity were there before the emergency services arrived and this too led to chaos and confusion.
What action will you take here to set up a trained first responder community?
I am writing this open letter on behalf of all citizens of Bangalore to all of you who are standing for the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha.
I believe it is important that our elected representatives, make Bangalore not just a modern city but a fire safe modern city.
I will wait to see how many of those standing for elections will respond to this letter and to hear from you on what difference you can make to Bangalore as regards fire safety.
* National Crime Records Bureau – Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2012