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Fire Safety in India

  • 30 May 2024
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: National Building Code (NBC), Bureau of Indian Standards, National Disaster Management Authority.

For Mains: Current Provision Regarding Fire Safety in India, Issues Leading to Urban Fire in India, Measures to improve fire safety in India.

Source: TH

Why in News?

Recently, fire accidents at the Rajkot game-center have raised concerns about fire safety regulations and their enforcement.

  • These incidents, including a market fire in Pune and a hospital oxygen blast in Delhi, show a possible need for stronger safety checks and clearer rules.

What is the Model Code for Fire Safety in India?

  • Data on Fire Accidents:
    • According to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report by the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 7,435 people were killed in over 7,500 fire accidents in 2022.
    • The fire accidents continue to cause heavy casualties, with no lessons learned from past tragedies like the Uphaar Cinema fire in 1997 and the Kumbakonam fire in 2004.
  • National Building Code (NBC):
    • India has a National Building Code (NBC) that serves as the central standard for fire safety.
      • It was published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in 1970 and last updated in 2016.
      • It provides detailed guidelines on general construction requirements, maintenance, and fire safety of buildings.
      • Fire safety instructions are mentioned in Part 4 of the NBC, which deals with safety from fire.
    • The NBC is a mandatory requirement for state governments to incorporate into their local building bylaws.
      • This is because fire services are a state subject, included as a municipal function in the 12th Schedule of the Constitution.
      • State governments are responsible for fire prevention and ensuring the safety of life and property.
  • The 'Model Building Bye Laws 2016' issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs guide states and Union Territories to frame their respective building bylaws.
    • These laws also prescribe norms for fire protection and safety requirements.
  • The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has also laid out guidelines on fire safety at homes, schools, and hospitals.
    • The NDMA guidelines include instructions on maintaining minimum open safety space, protected exit mechanisms, dedicated staircases, and crucial evacuation drills.

What are the Key Fire Safety Rules Laid by NBC in India?

  • The NBC specifies the demarcation and restrictions on the construction of buildings in fire zones:
    • Residential areas, educational, and institutional buildings fall under Fire Zone 1 to ensure they do not coexist with industrial and hazardous structures (like factories, warehouses, data centres, and facilities for power and repair).
  • The NBC mandates the use of non-combustible materials for construction, including for the internal walls of staircase enclosures, with a minimum 120-minute fire resistance rating.
  • It also outlines requirements for maximum height, floor area ratio, open spaces, and provision of openings in walls and floors to prevent the spread of fire.
  • Electrical installations must have flame-retardant wiring and cabling, with high, medium, and low voltage wiring run in separate shafts/conduits and sealed with fire-stop materials.
    • All metallic items like steel structural members must be properly bonded to the earthing system.
  • The Code requires an emergency power-supplying distribution system, including exit signage, emergency lighting, fire alarm systems, and public address systems for emergencies.
    • It also specifies requirements for exit access, exits, escape lighting, and exit signage to ensure safe evacuation.
  • The Code recommends incorporating technologies like automatic fire detection and down-comer pipelines, dry riser pipelines, automatic sprinklers, and water sprays.

NDMA Guidelines on Fire Safety

  • Do's
    • Prepare: Have a fire escape plan and practise it regularly. Ensure all exits are clear and functional.
    • Alert: In case of fire, stay calm and raise the alarm. Alert everyone in the building and prioritise escape over belongings.
    • Escape: Use the designated escape routes and staircases. Never use elevators during a fire.
    • Crawl Low: Stay low to the ground to avoid smoke inhalation.
  • Don'ts
    • Panic: Stay calm and think clearly. Panicking can hinder your ability to make good decisions.
    • Re-enter: Never go back into a burning building for any reason.
    • Use elevators: Elevators can malfunction during a fire, leaving you trapped.
    • Open doors/windows without caution: Opening doors/windows can feed the fire. Only do so if you can escape through them safely.

What are the Compliance Challenges with Fire Safety Rules in India?

  • Ignoring Fire Safety Rules:
    • While national guidelines (National Building Code) exist, they aren't mandatory, leading to inconsistent enforcement across localities.
      • Even mandatory certifications have loopholes, as the code allows fire services to grant exemptions due to practical difficulties.
    • Eg: In Rajkot Tragic Accident, the building was constructed using metal sheets, creating a large structure. The owners failed to get a mandatory NOC from the fire department, lacked proper fire-fighting equipment on the premises.
  • Underutilisation of Fire Safety Audits:
    • Authorities responsible for fire safety norms are usually understaffed, and they rarely conduct audits, allowing fire hazards to persist.
  • Lack of Preparedness and Apathy of Authorities:
    • A 2020 report by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) criticised authorities for their inaction and failure to learn from previous fires accidents.
      • NIDM highlighted that adhering to building codes and implementing effective urban planning could have averted the tragedy and saved lives.
      • NIDM also stressed the significance of fostering strong communities to enhance disaster preparedness.

Way Forward

  • Legislative Reform and Enforcement:
    • Mandatory Fire Safety Code: Enact a uniform and mandatory national fire safety code binding on all states and local authorities.
    • Implement a system of mandatory fire safety audits for all buildings (as per NBC and NDMA) with strict penalties for non-compliance.
  • Bolstering Firefighting Capabilities:
    • Modernisation of Fire Services: State governments must prioritise investments in upgrading firefighting equipment, firefighter training, and overall fire service capacity.
  • Empowering Communities:
    • Public Awareness Campaigns: Launch extensive public awareness campaigns to educate citizens on fire safety measures, evacuation procedures, and the importance of building code compliance.
    • Integrate fire safety education into school curricula to cultivate a culture of fire safety awareness from a young age. This will empower communities to be active participants in disaster risk reduction.
  • Other Measures:
    • Mock Drills: The fire services must conduct regular fire safety drills so that people are aware of what to do in the event of such a tragedy.
    • Self-extinguishing Furniture and Building Materials: Implement furniture, carpets, and wall coverings made from fire-resistant or self-extinguishing materials that can slow the spread of flames.
    • Advanced fire Suppression Systems: Encourage installation of advanced fire suppression systems like automatic sprinkler systems and misting technologies.
    • Installing Advanced Equipments to Prevent Smog: Few equipment needs to be installed in buildings, such as devices for containing smog generated from fires to prevent suffocation of individuals.

Drishti Mains Question:

Q. What is the state of fire safety in India, and what measures need to be taken to improve it?

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