One year on, fire drill victim's kin yet to get compensation

Nalini was killed during mock exercise; probe indicts officials

As the City observed the third anniversary of the Carlton Towers inferno on Friday, not many remember another tragedy.

height of negligence: A private factory where a mock exercise on fire safety claimed the life of Nalini (inset above) on February 24, 2012 in Yeshwantpur. (Inset right) Police  personnel display the rope which snapped while Nalini was alighting from the third floor of the building. dh photos

A year ago today, a mock drill to boost the fire-safety awareness of workers at a factory, claimed the life of a welfare officer, Nalini, 24 at Bombay Rayon Fashions Limited, a readymade garments factory in the Yeshwantpur industrial suburb.

The family of the deceased has not received any compensation even one year after the incident. This, despite two inquiries indicting fire officers for their negligence leading to the death of the woman.

The fateful day

Nalini Ramakrishna, 24, a native of Gauribidanur and employed as a welfare officer at the private firm, was an enthusiastic participant in the fire drill at the factory that day.
As the firemen demonstrated how to alight from a third-story window using a rope, several factory employees volunteered to try the technique. One employee managed to the use the rope to get down after being assisted by a fireman.

Nalini also volunteered to have a go at the rope. When Fire officer K Narayanaswamy helped her down from the window through the use of a “chair knot,” the rope snapped and Nalini plummeted to the ground. Rushed to a nearby hospital, she succumbed to her injuries later that day.

The Fire and Emergency Services instituted a preliminary inquiry headed by Varadarajan, Chief Fire Officer, Mangalore.

Inquiry findings

The inquiry report, submitted to the government on March 4, 2012, a copy of which is with Deccan Herald, states that the rope used to help Nalini reach the ground was old, and had not been tested for its tensile strength.

“The rope was supplied by the Department to Yeshwanthpur Fire Station on May 26, 2007 and was used 39 times in mock drills. It had lost all its physical strength, and the diameter of the rope had become reduced from 80 mm to 60 mm,” the report stated.

The rope had also not been tested before it was used in the drill. In addition, as it had been used by the previous volunteer, it had lost its strength and had become elongated two metres below the chair knot. The firemen also failed to take precautions to minimise the friction of the rope with window railings.

The report reveals that the old rope was used even though a new coil of rope was available for the drill — this rope was later seized by investigating police.

According to the investigating officer, the Yeshwanthpur Fire Station had also been supplied with 10, brand-new coils of rope which had not even been removed from their packaging.

The report indicts K Mariyanna, fire station officer of Yeshwantpur for not maintaining and testing the equipment, District Fire Officer Devaraju, K Narayanaswamy who held the rope used by Nalini, and N U Erappa, the Chief Fire Officer of Bangalore West who led the mock fire drill that day.

Following the preliminary inquiry, a detailed departmental inquiry was conducted, headed by Sridhar.

The report of the inquiry findings were submitted to the Home department months ago. Sources said the second report indicts the same officers named in the first report.

No action

Sources revealed “intense lobbying” by Erappa and his supporters prevented the government from taking disciplinary action against him.

According to sources, Omprakash, the DGP of Fire and Emergency Services recently wrote to the Home Department, recommending that no action be taken against Erappa.

News of the letter has angered several junior firemen. “It is the junior officers who are always made victims while the politically connected will escape,” said a fireman who is now retired from the service.

Compensation

B G Changappa, Director, Fire and Emergency Services, said that the department had written to the government, recommending an ex gratia of at least Rs one lakh for the family of the victim. “There has been no progress on this issue since then,” he said.

He added that precautionary measures during demonstration and training drills have improved since the tragedy. “Trained firemen and even dummies are to be used for rope demonstrations. Helmets have been made compulsory,” he said.

Raghavendra Auradkar, Home Secretary, declined to comment on the issue.

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