Fire safety audits of Government buildings

Taking any liberties with fire safety in Government buildings and even other places where people usually frequent like hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, cinema theatres etc is tantamount to the proverbial “Playing with fire”. On umpteen times, at many places across the country, we have been seeing how fire breaks out and within no time causes extensive damage to property and more so, results in loss of precious human lives too. In Jammu and Kashmir, there are lot many fire incidents taking place each year. Forest inferno especially in Jammu division causes extensive damage to forest wealth , other buildings including hospitals, offices etc vulnerability of which remains always lurking notwithstanding . Only in late March this year , we had a massive fire at a scrap store in Jammu’s busiest Residency Road in the heart of the city which claimed the lives of four persons including a child besides causing injuries to twenty persons including causing damages to the property.
During the last six years, , an official number of fire incidents in Kashmir valley is put at 16000 , last year alone as many as 2300 incidents of fire took place across the valley causing loss of property of over Rs.650 crore .Since nothing can precisely be predicted about the timing of visiting of an emergency like fire breaking out, what levels of safety , security and preparedness are there in place must be got fairly known . It is often when a tragedy strikes , that things start moving as to where and at what level was sheer recklessness adopted which for example led to surfacing of a fire incident and how to reverse the same . Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in May this year duly highlighted the problem and desired that fire safety audit of Government buildings and other places visited by the people be conducted.
Fire and Emergency Services Organisation , therefore, swung into action as a result of which the exercise of audit was conducted in nearly more than 200 Government buildings across Jammu and Kashmir . There are reports which follow such audits wherein areas of weaknesses and shortcomings that were noticed during audit are duly highlighted so that Action Taken Report (ATR) was sent to the higher authorities by the concerned authorities of the audited Government buildings, premises of offices/departments etc. It is, however, surprising that there is neither any progress nor any development in respect of action taken and report sent thereon nor the recommendations made by the Fire and Emergency Services Organisation duly noted for compliance and acted upon. Why fire safety audits are conducted , perhaps, needs to be adequately understood in that it is a mode or a tool to comprehensively assess fire safety standards in a building etc , find out and address inherent fire hazards and recommend how these hazards or shortcomings could be addressed. If the later part is not attended to promptly , the very purpose , time and resources put in to conducting such audits gets defeated.
It is not that only after there are instructions from the General Administration Department or from any side from the UT Administration or there are surprise audits and inspections carried out that fire audits are arranged but it should be a regular periodic practice undertaken by each Government department, schools and colleges etc. Importantly, points mentioned in reports must be attended to without fail and promptly. However, most of the departments and the Administrative Secretaries have not attended to and acted upon the recommendations made by the Fire and Emergency Services Organisation which means wherever security and safety shortcomings and lacunae were found remain unaddressed as on date to the peril of all.
Accordingly, such defaulting Departments have again been impressed upon to send ATRs to the concerned higher authorities at the earliest. Since, at the cost of repetition, calamites and tragedies seldom send prior signals and in order to prevent and protect against the destruction caused by fire, it is extremely important to have fire safety audits conducted and recommendations / observations acted upon, addressed and compliance report submitted. Moreover, fire fighting safety gadgets and equipment installed mandatorily in the premises / buildings prominently must be ensured to be in fire fighting worthiness so as to use them to douse the fire immediately it is noticed and thus preventing it from spreading and causing any damages . Safety of people must be given utmost priority and any complacency adopted in it must be dealt with sternly and suitably.