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Friday, April 26, 2013

Coimbatore killer fire and the lessons to be learnt............

‘Nobody leads alone in the pathway known as life’ says the advertising board in the building !

Even for those of us, dealing with claims, yesterday’s fire at Coimbatore was a rude shock as it involved loss of human lives.  Reports suggested that the building lacked emergency exit and the staircase was only 3 ft wide…….. the loss of life has left the city of Coimbatore fuming over the building rule violations and lack of safety measures……….but ‘Vigneshwar Cresta’ at Lakshmi Mills Junction is nothing unique, there could be 100s of such complexes in every city !!!

In a fire that broke out in a commercial complex, Vigneshwar Cresta, at the Lakshmi Mills Junction on Avanashi Road in Coimbatore on Thursday morning, sadly 4 women died. The deceased were identified as R. Keerthana (22), a receptionist, Sri Lakshmi (30), working with a share-broking firm and Vijayalakshmi (50) and Margaret Mary (55), both housekeepers. The bodies were charred by the time they were retrieved. Seven fire tenders battled the blaze for more than two hours. A few more were injured; two of them suffered fractures in the leg when they jumped off the third floor. Reportedly 3 personnel of Fire and Rescue Services were also injured. 

Fire soon engulfed the complex that houses many offices including those of Axis Bank, ICICI Lombard, Sharekhan (a sharebroking firm) and a firm dealing in computer peripherals. According to eyewitnesses, thick smoke started billowing from the third floor around 9.25 a.m. and security personnel alerted the staff in all the offices to leave the building. Thick smoke from burning false ceilings and interior decoration material hampered their rescue efforts. Fire Services officials said the cause of the fire and extent of damage were being investigated.  The Hindu and other newspapers reported that Police personnel at the signal stopped two city service buses and parked them against the building so that evacuees could use the vehicles as a chute to slide down to safety. Coimbatore Corporation vehicles that are equipped with ladders to repair streetlights also jumped the fray alongside battery of ambulances from the 108 service; a number of private hospitals were lined up for shifting the injured.

Mr. Viswanathan, Police Commissioner  appreciated the two drivers and conductors of a private and Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation city bus service namely Nagamanickam (30) and Ravikumar (49) both conductors and Murugan (45) and Rajendran (52) Drivers for their selfless service. The crew had parked the bus in such a manner providing a chute for the trapped victims to jump from the first floor to the roof of the bus and slide down to safety. Mr. Viswanathan said that the crew had saved lives as their priority and they never waited for any permission or clearance from the bus owner in the case of private bus and from the officials in the case of TNSTC bus. Their actions were selfless and were aware of the fact that the bus could suffer some damage and also of the risk of suffering injuries in the process of rescue. "Saving lives had remained their topmost priority".

Police registered a case of 304A (negligence causing death) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the owner of the building and manager of the commercial complex.  Today’s reports suggest that the Police arrested two persons in connection with the devastating fire ~  Mohanakrishnan, owner of the Sharekhan franchisee and complex manager Baskar have been arrested under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others). Special teams have been formed to nab the building owner Adithya, who is absconding, the Police Commissioner is quoted as saying.  Absence of emergency exit, fire extinguishers, provision for water hydrants, narrow stair case were believed to be the reasons for the loss of lives and injuries to so many. Police are also probing as to whether bio-metric access and exit systems were reasons for the staff not being able to escape instantly because of the failure of power circuits as a result of fire.

When buildings spruce up, it is their utility, the floor space that is utmost and safety takes the back seat.  There are building without emergency exits, violations and deviations being the norm rather than exceptions.  The Coimbatore Corporation is now  looking into the approval details of the building where the fire broke out, said an official of the civic body. Every Dept is aware that there are hundreds of buildings that are in violation of permitted floor space, permitted usage and do not have the fire service department approval.  Many old buildings have improper or temporarily drawn up electrical lines that are a great hazard.  It is time authorities get up and take action against all errant people. ‘Safety is everybody’s concern’….

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
Photos courtesy : & the hindu [police commissioner appreciation photo]

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