Fire Safety Archives - Beyond Carlton

Is ‘No one was killed in the fire’ good enough news?

Chennai silks fire


For most of us, the line ‘No one was killed’ that appears in any report on a fire mishap is very comforting. But think about it – and the false sense of complacency it lulls us, and thereby the governing authorities, into.

The recent fire at the silk market in T Nagar in Chennai is a classic example. ‘No casualty, mercifully. But the losses, as appearing in some media reports, is a whopping Rs 420 crore. This – only the value of the damaged goods and other ‘direct losses’. For starters, even if we took the average cost of a silk saree to be Rs.1000 , dear women readers, we just watched the 40 lakh silk sarees turn into ashes. Put another way, it is a square meal that could have fed 1.3 crore people for a day, even assuming Rs 150 for a person’s meal.

But the deeper question is – is ‘loss’ in a fire or a mishap, only property loss? What about what happens to business-owners and their families whose sole source of income came from that shop and trade? How about the loss to the community? What about the impact on the environment due to not only pollution from fire but also the debris created after the fire? What about the image of T-Nagar as a key commercial area? Lives might have been saved but were we able to save livelihood?

Could the Chennai fire have been prevented – The answer is an emphatic yes. Here are a few points to consider:
1.The working fire protection system such as in this building would not have been cost the owners 1% of the loss incurred. Various media from Tamil Nadu have reported that there were more than 100 tankers summoned to the spot that supplied water to douse the fire. Assuming 4000 liters in one tank, we can assume that the fire engines therefore landed up spraying more than 4 lakh liter of water from outside, so much so that the building itself collapsed

  1. An automatic sprinkler system (little firefighter hanging from ceiling waiting to throw water on seat of fire and each covering approx. 10 sq m area and spread throughout the area to give full coverage from inside of the building) for such building would have operated 3-5 sprinklers to control the fire to one limited area, with a few hundred liters of water controlling the fire. The little firefighters inside the buildings (automatic sprinklers) can do wonders provided you maintain them and give them water. They are even more very useful in such cases where the streets are narrow and fire engines take time to come and throw first drop of water from outside and that too not on the seat of fire. This disaster could have been averted and it could have been minor fire with no news even in media.
chennai silks fire


Is there something we can learn from this unfortunate incident for the other buildings abutting on the same street? Do we want to let them be sitting ducks for another such accident, God-forbid? Tamil Nadu as per record of Tamil Nadu Fire & Rescue Service statistics received 25,897 fire calls in 2016 of which more than 600 were for ‘medium’ to ‘serious’ fire calls. As the Fire Service reports the number of fire engine turnout is more. Adherence to three pillars of National Building Code, 2016 – Fire Prevention, Life Safety and Fire Protection can help in preventing such disasters. And an investment into correctly designed, installed and maintained fire protection system (automatic sprinklers) can avert the disaster and we can save the national losses from fire which are most times not seen or reported. The societal cost of fire is far larger than just property damage and hence we have more obligations in saving such losses.

Sumit Khanna is a member of the Executive council of Beyond Carlton. India’s first citizen-initiative to make people fire-aware and prevent fire tragedies.


Fire Fighting in India – High on Risk but Low on Focus

This post is in the context of an interesting speech by Nitin Pai at the Beyond Carlton Annual Day (the link to the speech is at the bottom)

As many of you will recollect, Carlton Tower Bangalore faced a devastating fire in 2010, and nine people lost their lives (with over 70 injured). This again brought into the focus the lack of firefighting security measures and emergency preparedness in many of the structures all around us. Beyond Carlton has been started and supported by family members of some of the victims of the incident. We may find more details on their website.

While Nitin’s speech is extremely informative on the macro pictures, I also wanted to augment it with some of the issues which I have found from my practical experiment/ understanding in the space.

1. Most fires take no more than 5 minutes to be an all-engulfing phenomenon, which essentially gives almost no scope to lack of proper preparation.

2. Even in cities, the minimum time (except for where there are captive fire stations are available) the time taken to reach the place of fire is at least 30 minutes. This is aggravated by the onlookers, and volunteers (who try to help – but are not properly trained).

3. Firefighting is a very risky job, and the injuries/fatalities are almost in the same range as the police. Also it is emotionally far more draining, as in most cases there are victims. However it ranks far lower in the social ranking of the jobs – and it is difficult to get people on board. This is seen in Nitin’s speech too.

4. The Fire NOC (No Objection Certificate) issued by the Fire Department is many times for lifetime, with no on course validation. In Karnataka, this has now been amended to once two years (thanks to efforts by Beyond Carlton and others), but many others states are far behind. As a result, many structures evolve over time without fulfilling the requisite norms (and become more hazardous (Carlton Towers Bangalore, AMRI, and Stephen Court Kolkata has seen many such post facto violations).

5. The National Building Code of India – in many respects is archaic and inconsistent from the Fire Safety perspective. It is almost impossible to build something without violation something in the code, in the process giving scope for discretion.

6. In many cases, especially in public facilities, the safety features are removed for accommodating aesthetics. For example, the sprinklers on the ceilings are covered with false ceilings, or signages are overlaid by banners or promotions.

7. The fire drills are few in numbers, and most cases not taken seriously by the general public. In fact, most feel that there is people and system available to save them in an emergency, but sadly that it is not reality.

8. In the case of megastructures, the internal audits are bypassed and external audits (if any at all) are considered as unavoidable distractions. However, an audit in which I was part of showed up many issues which in the case of an incident will create fire traps with a limited escape:

–         Missing couplings and nozzles (they being made of brass and small in size are easy targets for pilferage)

–         Leaking hoses, leakage in underground pipes, which affects pressure need for reaching up to higher floors

–         Secondary pumps for overhead tanks not under maintenance (why will stop supply of water in case of a primary pump failure)

–         Inadequate space for movement of fire tenders

–         Lack of proper SOP, signage, emergency numbers etc.

–         Firefighting budget is not taken seriously, and attitude is optimized (whereas it should maximize)

Overall, Fire Fighting remains a high risk but low concern area for the whole country, and it needs to change.

We can see Nitin Pai speech here

Dipankar Khasnabish Dipankar Khasnabish has an abiding interest in social work. He has played leadership roles in large residential communities (including the umbrella organization spanning 500 residential entities in Bangalore) and drove sustainable changes in the areas of governance, community connects, solid waste management and electoral awareness. Dipankar also is a key member of Rotary International and had been actively involved in fundraising (including Chairing the Bengaluru Midnight Marathon – BMM, the flagship marathon event for the city and single largest fundraising activity for Rotary in India), integrated village development and education for the underprivileged.  Dipankar is also a key functionary of IIT Kharagpur Alumni association.
fire safety children Children's Day

Time to Pay More Attention to Fire Safety of Our Children This Children’s Day

Nothing hurts a parent more than to see their child suffer. Whether it is an illness, an emotional hurt or an injury, we wish we could set it right straight away. Yet, so few of us are actually worried about fire hazards around our children when over 20,000 people die every year in the fire including children.

This brings me to the reality of fire safety. Most of us don’t give any thought to it.

It will never happen to me or my child is what almost each one of us thinks.

And this is one of the reasons why we live in ignorant bliss while our houses, neighborhoods, malls and even schools, yes schools, are sometimes sitting ducks to fire accidents.

Fire hazards can cause life-threatening situations. Kids and young children are more vulnerable to such hazards, therefore, it is important to teach them about fire safety. Not only you should be prepared about any fire hazard at your home, your children should also be prepared and must know how to respond during such situations. 

As a parent, it worries me that our public places often openly flout fire safety norms. How many of us are aware of how fire safe are our schools, our malls, our hospitals or even our homes? We are not! It is not something that we ponder over.


Would you, like me, would like to make a beginning?

fire safety children Children's Day


Here are some fire safety tips that will keep our children safe:

fire safety tips for kids - infographic

Talking About Fire Hazards

The first step towards teaching your kids important fire safety lessons is making them understand the effects of fire. You can use videos, images, and courses available online to make them understand the basic facts about fire and situations that can cause an outbreak of fire. Make sure that you handle the topic carefully as you would not want to scare off your kid. Use real-life examples and make sure that your kids are aware of things in your home that are combustible. You can introduce some fun elements like firemen related games or showing them animated videos of fire safety to make the learning curve easy for them.

Identify Fire Hazards In Your Home To Minimize Risks

If you have kids at home, you must be extra careful and make sure that combustible items are away from their reach. Always keep matches, lighters and candles in places that are difficult to reach for children. You can place child locks on cupboards to prevent them from accessing such items.


Make sure that electrical equipments are properly repaired and safe for children. Kids are often curious about various items in the household and may end up doings things like poking fingers in electrical sockets. Therefore, teach them from the early age that it is not right and they might get hurt. Also, you can cover up sockets with socket covers to prevent it.


Teach Them About Fire Safety Equipment Installed In Home

Homes with kids must have fire safety equipment installed so that you can prevent the fire before it causes damage. You can also teach your kids about the functioning of equipment like smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire alarms so that they know how to identify a fire hazard. You can seek the help of child-friendly videos available on the internet for teaching them about various fire safety equipment that can be readily used in case of a fire.


Other special precautions that you can take at home are:

  • Ensure that all the electrical devices are switched off and de-plugged at night in your kids’ room.
  • Prepare an escape route that would be used in event of a fire and teach your kids about it.
  • Make them understand that they must approach emergency responders in a case a fire breakout instead of putting themselves in dangerous situations.


It is not only the duty of parents to teach students about fire safety but schools and child care providers must come forward to prepare kids for uncalled fire accidents. With proper guidance and measures, you can comfortably teach kids to respond to fire accidents. We hope that the above given tips would help you in inculcating habits in kids that would keep them safe during emergency situations.


This Children’s Day, also endeavour to pay more attention to fire safety in your public spaces. Talk to your kids’ school and find out what measures they have in place in case of a fire emergency. It is possible that they haven’t given a thought to it or have just some cursory fire fighting equipment that has not been serviced for years only because parents don’t pay attention to fire safety.


Force them to think and take corrective action. Holding a fire safety drill for children could be the next step.

fire safety children Children's Day

Similarly, be more engaged in how equipped are our other public places in the event of a fire. Last time, I went to watch a movie with my children, I actually spent some extra time to note where the Emergency Exits in the theatre were. While taking the stairs to go to the parking lot, I noticed that the staircase was quite wide and that each floor had a fire safety notice put up about evacuation in case of an emergency and fire extinguishers on each floor. I was happy to note that there was some effort done there.


Let’s make fire safety a pertinent issue. Next time, you go to a public space, I urge you to observe, question and speak up.


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Pic courtesy: mikecphoto, Vadim Ratnikov and Oleksandr Khmelevskyi from Shutterstock.


Rachna Parmar is an Editor, web columnist, popular blogger and Digital Marketer. She is a mother of two and feels strongly about the issue of fire safety and the lack of importance accorded to it in India.

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