Ten years ago that day, horrific images of thick black smoke rising from a building on HAL Airport Road stunned the city as desperate people jumped to death to escape suffocation. Previously, the last major fire tragedy that Bengaluru witnessed was in Venus Circus in 1981.
The February 23, 2010 Carlton Towers fire chases survivors and families of the nine people who lost their lives. Every time a fire accident is reported in the country, they experience the horror again. However, the tragedy gave birth to what is probably the country's only citizen-led fire protection advocacy group, Beyond Carlton, which has become a focal point for fire-related issues such as compliance over the years.
Uday Vijayan, who lost his 23-year-old son in the tragedy, is the executive trustee of the fire protection group. “We have set two goals that have not changed in 10 years. One of them is to make the authorities more accountable. Carlton was a system failure: there was no inspection, fire engines could not reach, maintenance of the building … everything that went wrong went wrong. In second place is the coordination between different authorities – fire and emergency services, traffic police, building association, etc., ”he said.
A photo dated February 23, 2010 of Rauch climbing out of Carlton Towers on HAL Airport Road.
Have things changed since the accident? Mr. Vijayan said to have certain things. “Our PIL petition resulted in the fire department carrying out an inspection every two years. The management committees of high-rise apartments are now much more accountable. In the first two months, we learned that most of us didn't know much about fire protection and that there was great apathy. Nobody wants to believe that we can die in an accident or fire, ”he said.
However, awareness and safety culture still have a long way to go. For example, Beyond Carlton recently highlighted that only two hospitals in the city have an incineration station.
After another serious accident – the Kamala Mills fire in Mumbai in 2017 – Beyond Carlton raised the issue of fire risk in the city's rooftops. The fire brigade and the emergency services, as well as the police, took action against facilities that violated the fire protection regulations. "Local bodies like I Change Indiranagar were active and that's how we dealt with them," he said.
Beyond Carlton wants to see in the future that nobody dies in a fire accident. But it is a long journey, Mr. Vijayan admitted. “It is not a realistic goal to set it for the next five or ten years. A fire accident can happen anywhere. In Bengaluru, for example, we did not expect the city to grow and are able to manage fire protection. If you can supply a new layout with water and electricity, why not a fire station like a park? The government has land, ”he said.
The group also claims that responsibility is not just with government agencies.
“There is very little time to escape a fire. In a high-rise building, for example, the internal system must work. Individual property is more likely to follow the rules. The problem lies with multi-tenant and commercial companies. Carlton was a similar case. There are more people involved in decision making, and fire protection is an ongoing and expensive process, ”he said.
Beyond Carlton found out in his series "I am a fire champion" what positive steps individuals and communities have taken. Among them is Yashve, a 9 year old from Chennai. "We did fire drills at school. We also have a fire extinguisher in the house and my mother taught me how to use it, ”she said.
Fire protection committee not yet started
Coordination between different authorities has been a sore point in fire safety, but a committee that has been promised to deal with it still has to take off. Members of Beyond Carlton have indicated that everyone involved – BBMP, Bescom, CREDAI and the fire protection group – should be part of the fire protection committee. "A government decree was also issued in 2018, but unfortunately it is not yet clear," said Beyond Carlton members.
In addition, Carlton, in consultation with the Karnataka fire and emergency services, published a five-year fire protection plan for Bengaluru in 2018, which included a five-year roadmap from 2018 to 2022. Key recommendations include introducing a retrofit guideline for older buildings, linking property tax payments and fire protection certificates, introducing a public-private partnership policy for private agencies as partners for new fire stations and surveillance, commitment to incineration stations in well-equipped hospitals, and developing protocols for inter-agency coordination , The plan is also pushing for a full adoption of the technology, including a technical upgrade that will allow firefighting car screens to display blueprints.