Callous conduct

The utterly improper and irresponsible manner in which the fire department conducted a mock fire drill in Bangalore has proved extremely costly.

It has claimed the life of a young woman who volunteered and fell to her death when a rope tied to her snapped while she began descending the building. It appears that the rope was fairly old, frayed and made of coir, not nylon. A senior fire services official has sought to absolve his department of responsibility by claiming that even new ropes can give way. If the fire department was aware of this why did they not have a safety net in place for the drill? Mock fire drills are meant to improve public awareness about how to respond in the event of a real fire. It is also aimed at putting fire safety procedures in place in business establishments and other public places. It is meant to build public confidence. Not only were none of these goals achieved by the mock drill at the business establishment but worse, it is likely to have shaken public confidence in the fire department and its abilities. The officials seem utterly clueless or perhaps careless about rescue operations. If this is the way the fire department functions during a mock drill, imagine how it would perform amidst chaos and confusion when a real fire happens, when smoke reduces visibility and people are panicking.

The idea of holding mock fire drills in multi-storey buildings is a good one but fire department officials defeated this idea by not planning their drill properly. In not following norms they acted in utter disregard of human life. A probe must be conducted to find out whether it was carelessness at the lower levels or whether the department does not have correct procedures in place.

The tragedy will deter other establishments from allowing the fire department to hold mock drills. While their reluctance is understandable, it is important in the interest of public safety that drills continue to be held. How the fire department responds to the tragedy in the weeks and months ahead will determine public response. If the fire department shows the public through a transparent process that lessons have been learnt from the tragedy, public confidence in the fire force’s capacity to protect people will be revived.

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