Playing With Fire: Safety Takes a Back Seat
The massive fire incident that reduced as many as 700 shops to ashes in Naharlagun, Arunachal Pradesh earlier this week exposed the utter unpreparedness of the fire personnel, concerned department and the government in dealing with such emergencies. It also brought to light the wide gap between fire safety provisions of the country and disaster management. The shopkeepers, who incurred huge losses from the inferno, had claimed that there were no personnel at the adjacent fire station when they rushed there to report the incident, and that the fire brigade arrived at the spot without adequately filling the fire tenders with water. Substantiating these allegations, a preliminary inquiry also revealed that the officers in charge of the station on the fateful night had failed to perform their duties effectively. It prompted the government of Arunachal Pradesh to suspend two fire officers for alleged dereliction of duty. The action was necessary to set a precedent and also to send a clear message to firefighters, as their profession demands attending to emergency calls and rescuing the people from danger- anytime, anywhere. However, just punishing the erring employees won’t solve the issue. An official statement had admitted that the firefighters had to refill the fire tenders about five kilometres from the incident site due to lack of water-filling facilities at Naharlagun. How can a fire station operate without adequate water supply? For employees to effectively respond to disasters, the state government should provide adequate water supply and other necessary equipment to fire stations. Every second is precious during an emergency.
Well, the Standing Fire Advisory Committee (SFAC) has recommended the setting up of a fire station for a population of 50,000 in order to efficiently tackle fire incidents but reports have suggested that most states could be not even close to reaching the target. Though the fire prevention and fire fighting services are provided by the respective states and UTs, the Centre should oversee the states’ preparedness, considering the number of fire incidents the country witnesses every year. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report, a total of 8,491 cases of fire accidents were reported in the country during 2021, causing injuries to 485 persons and 8,348 deaths, including six cases and an equal number of deaths in Nagaland. This means that close to 23 persons die in fire-related accidents everyday in India. To mitigate loss of lives and property, states should work on providing unified fire services, procure modern equipment and conduct regular mock drills. Major fire safety laws like National Building Code of India and Model Building Bye-laws also should be implemented. We should not play with fire by undermining safety measures. All states should learn a lesson from the Arunachal Pradesh fire accident.