Costly slips: IISc has bad fire safety record

The recent hydrogen cylinder blast at the Hypersonic and Shockwave research laboratory at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) — which killed a research scholar and injured three others — has raised questions on the safety measures at the research centre.

The IISc security chief claims it has a special officer to ensure safety and an audit on the same is done often.

A former technical officer at the IISc, who requested anonymity, said that several suggestions put forward to step up safety measures at the institution long ago went unheard.

“I have over the years recommended that the IISc acquire a fire tender, but the recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. How many more young lives do we have to lose before we wake up,” the officer asked.

Admitting the hydrogen cylinder blast was the first such incident at the 110-year-old institution, the former officer recalled the fire mishap of 2007, which gutted the Molecular Cell Biology laboratory, due to an electrical overload on the air conditioners. Several students inside the building had a miraculous escape then.

The former officer shared details of a 2010 workshop — Fire Safety Engineering and Structures in Fire — conducted by IISc’s Department of Civil Engineering, where top scientists, professors from elite institutions and seniors members from various disaster management groups across the country were in attendance.

“Having a huge campus with research facilities at every corner, the IISc was advised to have an inhouse fire brigade as a safety measure,” the former official said. The nearest fire brigade to the IISc campus is the one at Yeshwantpur, and another on the Sheshadri road. Keeping the distance to the fire brigades in mind, the officer had recommended an inhouse fire brigade for the campus that is spread across a sprawling 371 acres.

“The IISc is 3 km away from the Yeshwantpur fire station, and it takes at least 15 to 20 minutes to reach the campus in normal traffic. It may take much more time to reach the specific location of the mishap on the vast campus,” said a senior fire department official.

The same concern was expressed by the family of Manoj, the scholar who was killed. It took 20 minutes for them to reach the lab where the mishap occurred.

Quoting these constraints, in 2010, the former technical officer had recommended the IISc to have a separate fire brigade to avoid major mishaps in future. However, even after eight years, the IISc is yet to act upon the proposal. DH had sent out an email to IISc officials, including the Director and the Registrar, seeking their response on the earlier proposal. There has been no response from the institution yet.

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Costly slips: IISc has bad fire safety record

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