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Fire audit in schools on, says DGP

By Our Special Correspondent

BANGALORE, AUG. 7. A "fire audit" of all schools is going on in the city, according to the Director-General and Inspector-General of Police (Fire Services), M.N. Reddy.

He was speaking here on Saturday at a discussion on "How fire safe are Bangalore's schools?" organised by Environment Support Group, a non-governmental organisation.

Two things emerged during the discussion: most schools are not equipped to cope with emergencies such a major fire and it is difficult for the civic administration to enforce fire safety norms in buildings, including those of schools.

National Building Code

The fire audit would initially go into the structural aspect of school buildings and check whether they conformed to safety norms such as large enough emergency exits, stipulated in the National Building Code, Mr. Reddy said.

The code needed to be mandatory as it was not so now.

Operational issues such as separating kitchens for midday meals from classrooms, storing of inflammable material, and the awareness aspect, including training for teachers, and "fire drills" for children to safely escape, have also to be considered, he said.

Representatives from the Public Works Department and Education Department were involved in the fire audit.

Appeal

He appealed to teachers and citizens to join the voluntary organisation of Fire Wardens.

The Chief Fire Warden, Moiz Ahmed, a retired fire service officer, said that nearly 100 persons were enrolled as fire wardens, including a few from schools and more could join. They would go through a three-day course at the fire service academy in the city.

There were separate training courses for students who would be given a certificate.

"The first three minutes after a fire is noticed are crucial; one needs quick reaction because it is almost impossible for a fire engine to arrive by that time. Smoke and panic kill as many people as fire, and fire drills are a must for students as are alarm bells that should be different from the usual school bell. Teachers should also be trained to help physically or mentally challenged children during a fire," Mr. Ahmed said.

`Setback'

B. Shivagangaiah, Joint Director (Town Planning), Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, explained that all buildings with more than four floors were required to have a "setback" from the road, wide enough for fire tenders.

In regard to schools, the bylaws stipulated staircases of at least 5 feet width and emergency stairs and exits. Buildings, including schools, with more than four floors were required to have lifts.

"Unfortunately, we are unable to deal strictly with those who violate norms ... They approach the courts and obtain a stay order and our hands get tied," he explained. Y.S. Devaru, Inspector of Schools, Bangalore South, said that while most government schools conformed to specifications about classroom dimensions and exits, many private schools did not.

Meetings

"We are holding meetings with school principals in all areas of the city" he said and added that "the parents can also bring to our notice any glaring violation of safety norms in schools."

The discussion later revealed that not many adults and no child knew how to use a fire extinguisher.

Participants pointed out to the absence of any representative of BESCOM though electrical short-circuits were a major cause of fire.

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