Whenever there is an incident of fire in the city, I exasperatedly await for the same tragi-comic drama that gets played out. We have the same news of most buildings found to be violating the prescribed norms and same notices issued.
But, as the Municipal Commissioner has made the last fire to move from buildings to fire department, I am hopeful for some change and hence I offer some pondering over the serious issue of fire safety.
If I simplify the fire-safety norms for high-rise buildings, they are about keeping a large water tank and piping system in state of readiness in each building. It is a sound idea as we never know when the fire would strike and as it will take time for fire department to reach the spot, it is critical to have an in-house system that can be used by occupiers to douse the flames.
The problem is, this solution presumes local preparedness, while we have never really studied this preparedness in action. When there is fire, we always get wiser in retrospection and do inspections to find what is obvious, i.e. the system is defunct in most buildings, but what we have never done is to check the preparedness in action.
The way to do this can’t be a statistical study of how many buildings are not fire-safety-compliant, as we do now. It should be to check in how many cases these systems are used by the occupiers to actually douse the fire.
My gut reaction is, the percentage of fires doused by occupiers using these systems, if not non-existent, would surely be negligible.
If we want to get a bit deeper, it would also be worth checking in cases where occupiers have attempted to use the fire-safety system. Again, my gut reaction tells me that it would be mechanical failure of the pump leading the way in the rare cases where occupiers have tried.
If we go into policy-making aspect, the debate between local and central always rages in such issues. In case of fire, the policy opts for local system backed up by a central fire department mainly because time is the essence. A fire requires quick response, especially in a tall building where it can kill people, so local preparedness is a must, but what to do when it is not resulting in meaningful solution?
If we study the problem, there are some interesting issues worth looking at.
Strange though it may sound, the fire-pump is very often powered by electrical power from the main line, and as the first response to fire is switching off of the power-supply, in most cases, the pump turns into a useless chunk of metal. So, the first revision AMC needs is demand installation of isolated power lines exclusive to fire-pumps.
The second common problem is fire-pump being out of order, mainly because it is rarely switched on. One slightly counter-intuitive solution would be to force people to have only one water-pump for both, water-supply and fire. This would ensure that when the pump isn’t working, its repairs would be promptly taken up. In fact, the idea of dedicated and isolated fire-fighting system needs to be questioned as it is the none-use that is the root-cause of its failure on the day.
This brings forth a lateral possibility where we shift from moving water tenders to the location and instead have vehicle-mounted pumps with on-site plug-and-play capabilities to use local water-tanks. This would also allow application of water from surrounding buildings.
In short, we need to accept that existing solutions are not working for fire fighting, so instead of fire-fighting every time, we need to rethink and re-solve this serious problem.