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Monday, January 7, 2013

Schools yet to meet fire safety norms 2 yrs after check

Not One Of 812 Has Given Fire Brigade Report Of Compliance

    Over two years after the fire brigade inspected 812 municipal, aided and private schools in the city on safety measures, found several glaring loopholes and asked for corrective measures, none of the schools has filed a compliance report. 

    Fire brigade officers said the lacunae pointed out during the inspection following guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and the state government were crucial for fire safety and not very difficult for school managements to follow. "In the absence of compliance reports, we do not have records of whether our suggestions have been followed. Fire safety within school premises is the responsibility of the school administration," said a senior fire brigade official. 
    Among the loopholes in the schools were ominous ones like loose wiring, fire extinguishers that were not working and refuge areas being used for other purposes. Yet the delay in filing the compliance reports seems to reflect the lax attitude of schools towards fire safety. 
    The fire brigade suggested several corrective steps, including keeping separate entry and exit gates, keeping the staircase and landings on each floor free of any encroachment, having electrical circuits and wiring checked periodically, stocking enough working fire-fighting equipment like extinguishers and fire alarms, and training schools staff to operate them in case of an emergency. 
    The fire brigade started inspection of the 812 schools from March 2010, about a year after the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment on April 13, 2009, gave key directives for fire safety in schools (see box). The guidelines came in response to a petition filed after the Kumbakonam school fire that killed over 90 children and shocked the country in 2006. 
    On July 16, 2004, a blaze, believed to have started from the kitchen where the noon meal was being prepared, spread to a row of thatched roof classrooms of the Sri Krishna Aided Higher Secondary School in Kumbakonam town of Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district where students from Class I to V were present. Ninetyfour children between eight and 10 years were charred to death. 
    On probing the incident, it was found that the school had violated several norms. The licence of the school was cancelled and the management arrested. 
    As part of a nationwide inspection drive after the SC's guidelines were issued, the fire brigade had also warned schools not to store any hazardous material. They had pointed out that canteens shouldn't have more gas cylinders than permitted. 
    The Maharashtra government had directed the fire brigade and other related agencies to not give permission for schools taller than eight floors following the Tamil Nadu incident. 

A BLAZING ISSUE 

Fire tenders arrive at a Kumbakonam school to fight 
the killer blaze that kickstarted a fire safety drive; (right, above) a gutted classroom 
CHRONOLOGY OF FIRE SAFETY EFFORTS IN SCHOOLS 
July 16, 2004 | Over 90 children between eight and 10 years die in a major fire at Sri Krishna Aided Higher Secondary School in Kumbakonam town of Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district. 27 others receive serious burns 
    Fire said to have started from the kitchen, where the noon meal was being prepared, and spread to a row of thatched roof classrooms 
    Probe finds school violated several norms. The licence is cancelled and management of the school arrested 
April 13, 2009 | The Supreme Court lays down guidelines for fire safety in schools in a landmark judgment 
    All govt, private schools must install fire extinguishing equipment within 6 months 
    School buildings must not have inflammable and toxic material. If storage is inevitable, they should be stored safely 
    School structures must be evaluated periodically according to the National Building Code. Dereliction of duty will attract action 
    Necessary training must for school staff to use fire extinguishing equipment
March, 2010 | Mumbai fire brigade inspects 812 schools. Finds several loopholes, asks for corrective measures July, 2012 | After Mantralaya fire, school education minister Rajendra Darda says fire safety audit and drills must in all the state's schools Oct 29, 2012 | Many schools violating fire safety rules, finds a survey of 300 schools in the city by non-profit group Parent-Teacher Association United Forum Oct 31, 2012 | BMC officials say will hold fire safety audit in all schools 
Jan, 2013 | The 812 schools yet to file compliance report with fire brigade 

Times View: Take fire safety more seriously 
    
Schools that were part of the fire audit should have taken the exercise a little more seriously. Safety issues at school top parents' list of concerns and not responding to the BMC for more than two years indicates a lack of respect for this concern. Schools should take this issue as seriously as safety on school buses




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