As most cities in India have unfortunately shut down due to the coronavirus scare, many citizens have been forced to work from home. We, at Beyond Carlton, thought now would an appropriate time to get citizens to check if their home or apartments are fire-safe.
This February 23rd marked the 10th anniversary of the Carlton Towers fire tragedy, that had claimed nine lives. As a mark of remembrance and tribute, Beyond Carlton, the citizen-led fire-safety initiative by those who lost their dear ones in the tragedy, organised a series of events in February. As part of this, we had launched a social media campaign ‘#iamfiresafe’ to create awareness on how one can be a fire champion and contribute to the community by preventing fire accidents.
To take part in the #iamfiresafe campaign:
– Tell us what was the fire safety violation you spotted in your home
– And what action you took to get it fixed
– Send us a picture of the violation and yourself.
– Also send a write-up to email@example.com
Actions taken can include:
- Conducting a safety check
- Fixing an expired fire extinguisher
- Fixing old, frayed electrical wiring
- Opening a blocked fire exit
- Clearing an electrical shaft from garbage, and so on…
The write-up can be in English, Hindi or any other language. Select entries will be featured on our social media pages and website.
Talking about this challenge, Uday Vijayan, Founder of Beyond Carlton, said, “As many of us are locked inside our homes, we felt this was the right time to get citizens to check on basic fire safety protection. Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility. One of the biggest constraints in our country is nonchalance to fire safety and apathy towards preventing fire accidents. As part of Beyond Carlton’s 10-year anniversary, we are running #iamfiresafe campaign on all our social media platforms. This campaign is a small effort to make our citizens more sensitive towards fire safety.”
Over the years, Beyond Carlton has emerged as a fire safety think tank. Its PIL in the Karnataka High Court forced the state government to amend fire safety laws to make them more stringent for high-rises.
Read: “All government hospitals in Bengaluru should have a burns ward”: Beyond Carlton
Beyond Carlton runs regular sessions on fire safety in corporate houses, schools and colleges. In consultation with Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services and the NGO Janaagraha, in 2018, it also launched a five-year blueprint to make Bengaluru fire-safe. For its efforts, founder Uday Vijayan was honoured with the Namma Bengaluru Citizens award in 2012.
[This article is based on a press release from Beyond Carlton, and has been published with edits]
Very good campaign about fire safety. Here are some of my suggestions for ensuring escape mechanism during accidental fires and also preventive measures/awareness campaigns for Beyond Carlton. Hope they will be given serious consideration and taken further:
(1) Make available fireproof ropes near windows: In all hi-rise buildings including multi-storeyed residential complexes, glass boxes, containing 100 to 300 feet of sturdy, fireproof, one to two inches thickness, rolls of ropes duly knotted with simple knots at every two meters of length must be kept ready. One end of the rope must be secured to a steel hook embedded to the masonry structure. In case of fire or emergency, people will be able to break the glass, remove the coiled rope/roll, throw it out of the open window, climb down and escape panicky asphyxiation due to thick smoke inside the building and fear or certain death by jumping through the open window. Inhaling carbon monoxide filled smoke will numb the faculty and create more panic in the brain due to depleting oxygen filled blood in the brain. By climbing out/hanging down with the help of the secured rope, they can at least be breathing fresh air and plan to save themselves with clear mind activated by proper oxygen filled blood circulation. Ropes without knots may shear the skin while sliding down and they may also loose balance and fall; if knots are there, the feeling of climbing down on a ladder will create confidence.
(2) Similar facility of ropes filled boxes must be made available near the ‘Staircase Well’ so that some people can climb down and escape faster without getting trampled in the melee on the staircase, if the fire is not spreading through the stair case.
(3) Similar arrangement must be available on the terrace of all buildings but with the condition that the length of the rope must reach the ground level.
(4) Mini-Oxygen cylinders with masks may be supplied to all employees/inmates with instructions on how to use them
(5) Cotton Masks/towels may be kept handy so that in case of emergency, people can wet them, cover their heads and face and also filter the smoke for avoiding inhaling of Carbon Monoxide/Carbon Dioxide/toxic fumes that may emanate from burning of computers etc.
(6) Availability of water: Water hydrants on streets are found to be dormant. All buildings must provide one water hydrant at ground level and one extra water tank on the roof top that may be reserved for use during emergencies to douse the fire from top or be available for people who reach the top floor, periodical cleaning and maintenance must be mandatory.
(7) People wearing nylon/polythene dress material must be extra careful because such materials catch fire fast, melt fast and stick to the body causing severe burns to the skin and also causing more panic.
(8) No inflammable material must be stacked on the terrace (Carlton Towers had a dozen diesel barrels on its terrace)/or on any of the floors; most government buildings use their unused top floors for dumping old records/broken furniture/computers, etc.
(9) Fire escape exit points: All buildings must be mandated to provide emergency fire exits in all floors (no compromises with the quality of stair case outside such emergency exits – some buildings are seen to have provided cost effective staircases made out of thin pipes and scrap material for steps only to follow the rules and regulations or if available, they are very narrow)
(10) Red doors: All such emergency exit points must be painted Red and must have glass doors that can be broken and access to stair case will be easily available in case the door is locked.
(11) Lifts with escape hatchs: Lifts will be the first casualty in case of power failure and create all round panic to inmates; hence, all lifts must have an exit hatch at the roof level so that people can manage to climb up and try to reach safe points; here again, mini oxygen cylinders with masks may be kept in glass boxes inside the lifts.
(12) Back-up power generation system must be available within the premises and preferably outside the building; at present such generators are housed in the cellar floors in most buildings.
(13) Fire extinguishing foam/gas cylinders with clear instructions to use must be placed in all floors in sufficient numbers with periodical servicing/replacements.
(14) Smoke sensors and water jets/sprinklers with siren systems must be in place in all corridors, halls and rooms.
(15) Gas cylinders of canteens must be placed in the exteriors with proper emergency/security measures
(16) Helipads / Helicopter pick up facility: All hi-rise buildings to have facility for either Helipads or facility for evacuating people through usage of Helicopters
(17) Area digital / satellite maps: Fire stations must use Information Technology to have detailed city road maps and satellite maps to enable them to take alternate routes that may have less traffic and reach the fire mishap spot without getting caught in traffic jams. Such maps will also help the fire station to alert the traffic police to cordon off the area and divert the movement of vehicles in other routes and also to enable fire engines to move in fast.
Officially approved building plans to be made available to area Fire Stations and area Police Stations; It must be made mandatory for all hi-rise buildings – commercial and residential – to keep three copies (one original with two soft copies) in area Fire Stations and Police Stations for use during emergent situations. Such detailed information will help in proper planning and also to pin the erring / violators of prescribed norms under the National Building Code and for prosecution purposes. Affected people may also be supplied with certified copies to claim insurance etc.
(18) Keep people at distance: People who just want to watch must keep a safe distance and their presence should not hinder movement of emergency services like
(19) ‘No objection certificates (NOCs)’ for occupation of buildings are being issued in a very casual manner even though buildings have violated rules, regulations and codes prescribed in National Building Codes and encroachments.
(20) Prevention is better than cure and during construction period itself all officials empowered to supervise encroachments, violations from approved plans, fire fighting arrangement etc., should be directed to ensure compliance of rules and regulations without compromise and if mishaps occur, they must be held responsible and action taken against such officials. (21) Safety Rope Nets: All fire stations must be equipped with ready made safety rope nets of varying sizes with hooks that could be attached to nearest electric poles, advertisement poles or even to fire engines so that more panic jumping lives can be saved. Remember Circus – workers erect strong safety nets for their trapeze artists within a matter of minutes – tragic deaths that occurred at Carlton Towers could be avoided; people held bed sheets and tempted the victims to jump from heights but ended up with thuds because either the bed sheet could not take the load or they were not held tight by the well meaning people. Tightly fitted rope nets will definitely help save lives. Even Trampolines like in Olympic games could be used if available around.
(22) Yoga for survival: Yogic exercise like Pranayama will be of great help when we are surrounded with smoke and toxic fumes alround. Our capacity to hold our breath for a few minutes will be the golden minutes to find escape routes with clear mind, run in the right direction and keep ourselves alive; how many minutes we can hold our breath depends upon the practice we put in everyday – this exercise can be done even while we are working. Our lungs have a certain capacity of intake of fresh air but unfortunately, we are not taking deep breaths due to various constraints/stress in our day today life and to boot, we are stocking a lot of stale air with half breathing practice.
(23) Parachutes/Para Sails: On the terrace of all high rise buildings Parachutes / Parasails in sufficient numbers may be kept ready for those who escape to the terrace. Necessary knowledge dissemination on how to use tie them, how to pull the string to release the chute and after how many counts the string has to be pulled may be given hands on training periodically to the inmates. Large stickers on how to use the parachutes/Para sails must be exhibited in all floors along with information on how to use fire fighting equipments that are available.
(24) Bows, Arrows & Ropes: If there are clusters of high rise buildings, bows and arrows may be made available on the terraces with rolls of strong fireproof ropes attached to the arrows. In case of emergency, it will be possible to shoot arrows to the roof tops of other buildings where the other end of the rope can be secured by those people on their rooftops and people can escape by crossing over to the other buildings. If the nearby buildings are within short distances, another option would be to throw a strong metallic multi-hook with rope tied to one end so that it gets hooked to some structure on the other building to enable people to cross over and escape the fire and also from collapse of the affected building.
(25) Allround ledges below windows: Future buildings may be directed to provide ledges of two feet wide just below the windows level, all around the building with small steel hooks at a height of 4/5 feet above such ledges, embedded into the superstructure at regular distances, so that people can climb out of the window, move over the ledges and stand securely by holding on to the steel hooks to balance or to protect themselves from strong winds at such heights, instead of becoming panic and jumping out to certain death.
(26) Other techniques: For school children/young techies, fire fighting can be made into a learning exercise while having fun. In addition to regular exposure to formal fire fighting demonstrations by the Fire Department, first aid, etc., their PT periods/leisure time can be turned into survival exercises also. Remember Bruce Lee and other Karatekas – they have mastered the art of jumping from heights, land on all fours (with the help of legs and hands), recover their poise and run within a matter of seconds. Rock climbing sport is becoming popular and that knowledge can help for safely negotiating climbing down / up, when caught up in a fire in a high rise building.
Similarly, kids can be taught Yoga – Pranayama – breathing exercise on how to control our inhaling and exhaling capabilities. If one can develop a capability of holding the breath for two minutes or more, those golden minutes will help one run out and head to a clean air area, in case they are caught in smoke filled rooms.
If any of these solutions are available at the time of fire mishap, life of people can be saved and tragedies can be averted. When hundreds of crores of rupees are being invested in constructing huge monstro-city structures, cost involved in providing the above fire emergency services should not be a concern at all