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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Express Avenue Fire - any lessons learnt !

Malls are high risk – they are overcrowded; too different categories of risks exist. Since it employs people of all hues, coordination could be a hit. I had yesterday posted that seemingly -  authorities & public were not exhibiting that seriousness that ought to be exhibited.  When there is fire, before investigating into its intensity, people should be evacuated, outsiders should not be allowed entry – all gates should be kept open allowing free passage of vehicles and persons inside to get out and go farther.

Though one would never know the exact occurrence, an ambulance apparently waded through the traffic nearer Royapettah Clock tower – some vehicles correctly stopped providing way for oncoming ambulance with siren; few foolishly tried following speedily the trail. The vehicle moved through the crowded area, took a right turn in the otherwise ‘oneway’ of Patullos Road from Whites Road.  Sure emergency vehicles have the right to use all the roadways – but could it not have been allowed at the first entry gate, perhaps opposite Odeon or nearer Clock tower ?

Reconstructing the event reading from newspapers, it is stated that even after the fire was noticed, reportedly, the Mall did not call for help from Fire Brigade but tried their hand, perhaps trying not to catch public attention ~ was that right ?   TOI reports that desperate  to keep a lid on a fire that broke out in Express Avenue Mall on Friday, authorities in charge of running the shopping centre and multiplex attempted to douse the blaze themselves, endangering visitors to the mall. Fire and rescue officials said they were informed about the blaze after two hours. Shoppers said the mall staff refused to call the fire and rescue services and futilely tried to use handheld extinguishers to put out the blaze. A visitor who saw smoke billowing through the corridors of the mall finally called for help, and fire tenders rushed to the spot.  The fire reportedly was first spotted around 10.45am and the Divisional Fire Officer is quoted as stating that they received a call fro help at 12.40pm.

The Hindu has a slightly different version – “At 10.35 a.m., a fire broke out in Regal, a retail footwear outlet on the first floor of the mall. Employees of the shop informed the mall’s fire safety officials, who then proceeded to evacuate the entire complex and closed the mall to outsiders. Between 11 a.m. and noon, a cinema-goer at the mall placed a call to the fire and rescue department (101). As the blaze progressed, at 12.40 p.m., mall officials placed a second call to the fire department, which then rushed four tenders (three of water and one of foam) to the mall, from various locations in the city — at least two hours after the fire had first been spotted. As smoke poured out of the building, panicked shoppers hurried out, forcing the mall’s staff to shut it down.”

For over seven hours, operations at all 245 retail outlets and the multiplex cinema in the complex were completely paralysed. Even after the fire had been brought under control by 2.30 p.m. and put out shortly after, smoke continued to billow inside the complex, and broken glass was littered all over central atrium — the result of several broken windows.  The mall was opened back with all operations resumed by 6 p.m.  

Newspapers identify the affected shop as Regal Shoes and in one paper an employee is quoted as the fire damaging all leather material, worth Rs. 1.87 crore.

Fire service personnel  is quoted as stating that  the blaze was likely caused by an electrical short circuit.  While one quotes people as stating that the electricity wires were faulty and not of good quality, another quoting the officials of the Mall claim that Express Avenue has installed a state-of-the-art integrated building management system catering to high fire and safety standards.

Fortunate that there were no casualties but this should sure sound alarm bells and help in adherence of quality safety standards.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
24th Nov. 2012.

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