Schools in Mumbai lack equipment, preparedness to tackle fire emergencies

While very few schools organise safety drills for students or conduct fire audits, even the education department has discontinued its yearly disaster management workshops

It took the death of over 90 children in a small school at Kumbakonam village, Tamil Nadu, for the Centre to make fire audits compulsory across all educational institutes in the country. The tragedy occurred after children were trapped inside a thatched roof dining hall that caught fire in 2004.

Closer home, the 2012 fire at Mantralaya once again brought attention to the need to conduct fire safety drills and teach students how to tackle emergency situations. Almost three years later, schools are still waiting for the education department to issue a circular for the same. To make matters worse, a workshop on disaster management that was mandatory for all the schools until a few years ago, lacks mention in the current agenda.

“Until recently, the education department held mandatory workshops with principals and selected teachers at the beginning of every academic year. The Kumbakonam fire incident had left everybody scared. Sadly, nobody seems to be worried about the same in the education department anymore,” said Fr Francis Swamy, co-ordinator, St Xavier’s School, Dhobi Talao.

He added that only a few educational institutes take interest in conducting mock drills for the staff and students and organise regular visits by the fire department officials to check the infrastructure and fire fighting equipment.

Spaced out
One of the biggest problems faced by the firemen who responded to the call to douse the fire that gutted a four-storeyed Kalbadevi building — Gokul Niwas — on Saturday, were the narrow bylanes that led to the building and illegally parked cars on both sides of these lanes. Several educationists are worried about schools located in similar surroundings. They claimed lack of space has forced the managements to compromise on the installation of firefighting equipment on the premises.

Officialspeak
“Fire safety audits were supposed to be a regular feature, but the school buildings are maintained by BMC and they need to take keen interest in it as well. The last time education department officials scrutinised schools, several institutes lacked the infrastructure to incorporate changes to make their premises safe in case of a fire,” said B B Chavan, education inspector, south zone.

Matter of concern
A survey conducted by the Parent-Teacher Association United Forum (PTAUF) in 2012 — soon after the Mantralaya incident — of 300 schools (100 BMC-run, 100 aided and 100 unaided), revealed that most of the buildings violated fire safety norms.
While only four per cent of the schools conducted awareness and fire-fighting workshops for children and staffers, mock drills were carried out only in 10 to 12 per cent of the schools and only six per cent of the schools had fire alarms.
The survey also highlighted the problem of live wires lying uncovered or hanging loose, which could trigger a disaster.

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