P S Rahangdale, Director, Maharashtra Fire Services
Do you think that fire safety norms are often ignored while creating the building structure? What should be done in this regard?
There are two aspects of fire protection of a structure, i.e., active measures and passive measures. The passive measures are the inherent building component while the active measures act as a support to these components in order to prevent or stop fire.
For instance, structural element of a building like the design of the room with partitions that act as a fire stop are passive element while a fire resistant door is an active measure. Without compartmentalization the fire spreads rapidly on a floor. Also, the electrical duct that passes from one compartment (room) to the other has to be sealed, this is an active measure. Smoke or heat detection alarms and sprinklers are also active measures. The fire preventive system for the whole structure is a combination of active and passive measures. The National Building Code very well specifies both measures. Usually, at the time of occupation of building, everything is in place. The major problem starts when post occupation; there is no one to take care of the system making it worthless in the time of need. For instance, sprinklers stop working or the cables passing through ceiling between compartments is not being sealed properly. These problems usually arise once the building is occupied and nobody pays attention to the problems. For such issues, we have an inspection cell.
Under Maharashtra Fire prevention Act, it is clearly stated that it is the responsibility of the owner/ occupier to take care of the active and passive fire preventive measure installed in a building. If the owner or occupiers fails then we step in, inspect the building, notify them and if they still don’t comply then prosecute them with fine or other measures like cutting the electricity or water supply etc. In last year, we have done more than 60 prosecutions and more than 30-40 electricity power supply cut cases happened too. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the public to ensure that the buildings they are living are working in has working fire preventive measures. It is about the personal safety and every person is responsible for it.
In order to work properly, the department also has to be self sufficient which is why in last four years, we have also developed our internal infrastructure and resources like increasing the number of fire stations, manpower, and equipments for fire rescue and digital communication system.
What role can the government play in ensuring structural safety in buildings?
NBC has provided the guidelines for building construction and maintenance but in Maharashtra, we have it converted into Acts and Regulation so it has become mandatory. Also, within Maharashtra different cities have their own DCR (Development Control Regulation). As far as the government agencies and fire safety regulations are concerned, they are working perfectly. According to me, the building design and fire safety parameters whether active or passive remain working till the time it gets occupied. However once occupied, there is no guarantee. For instance, in an electric meter room of a society, you will see so much irrelevant stuff, garbage, spare parts strewn that can cause fire but there is no responsibility.
As a developer it is your responsibility to ensure that the sanctioned building plans along with the recommendation of fire officer to be put into place.
Your message to builders and architects.
There should not be a complacency in this regard. Nobody should think that if something has happened to somebody, it cannot happen with me. As a developer it is your responsibility to ensure that the sanctioned building plans along with the recommendation of fire officer to be put into place. Structural safety is one of the biggest things to be taken into consideration. Also, when the building gets handed over, the developer should put in place a system to ensure that the fire prevention/ rescue system remain in the working condition.