This summer Mumbai saw some very bad cases of fire where lives were lost. Some of our city’s finest firemen sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. A fire broke out in an old building in Kalba Devi area. Mumbai’s Fire Brigade Chief Sunil Nesrikar died after leading the fire fighting operation and so did Deputy Chief Officer Sudhir Amin after battling with 90 percent burns. Two other firemen MM Desai and SW Rane also lost their lives. In another incident, 7 people died and many others injured in a high-rise residential building in Powai.
The thing about uncontrolled and unwanted fire is that lives are badly affected, lost and lot of stuff gets damaged beyond repair. Our extended family also saw a similar incident of fire in which there was a small blast in the split AC of the master bedroom and within minutes the system started billowing thick black smoke. They vacated the flat and raised the alarm for their neighbors too. The fire department also responded swiftly but by then a lot of material was gutted. Due to the water sprayed from the fire engines to douse the flames, the entire flat’s furniture was damaged. Papers got burnt so did lot of clothes, artifacts and there was soot everywhere. It is estimated that the entire work of salvaging and repairing the flat will easily take 6 – 8 months. I witnessed another fire few years ago in a building where the firemen got stuck in the lift trying to go up to the higher floors. It was a huge mistake. Add to that the fire engines could not reach the refuge area as the access path was completely “inaccessible.”
Point is hazards like fire is always lurking around us and can be often avoided (or not). It is for this, buildings have fire-fighting equipments and we have the fire-fighting department of the state. Materials also have material safety data sheets for handling. But human intervention or lack of intervention thereof can often lead to instances of fire and things going out of control. We will not discuss the quality of equipments and technology available to fight fire in India or the lack of proper consideration for fire protection while designing buildings, access areas or even town planning at a macro level. Quite often fire occurs due to human errors like lose wires or storage of inflammables. We will discuss about prevention of fire or preparedness to reduce the losses.
Everyone must have basic knowledge of what are inflammables, why do they catch fire and how they should be stored to avoid fire hazard. There is a difference in electric fire and other type of fire. In one case, we need to use foam whereas others we can use water or sand to cut off the oxygen supply. We must know the inflammables around us too. There are a lot of fire-fighting equipments in modern buildings. Learn to operate them. Be aware that every system needs routine checks to ensure that the equipments are in working condition and will do the job when required. We should install first level defense system like simple fire extinguishers at strategic points in our home or place of business. It is crucial that the equipments are accessible and operable. Do not ignore odd sounds, smoke or any kind of weird smell emanating around you. Investigate and eliminate completely.
However, the bigger problem is when fire breaks out and we have to tackle the aftermath.
When fire breaks out the only concern for human beings is to preserve and save themselves and people around them. Unless it is sheer human arrogance, bravado or stupidity, lives can be saved but it is the loss of belongings like clothes, papers, jewelry and documents which are draining. Among these furniture, fixtures and clothes can be replaced fairly easily provided you have adequate funds. Often we can make do with fewer clothes or tables and chairs. What is vital are our important papers, documents, cash-in-hand, jewelry which when perish are difficult to replace. We should be prepared to protect them.
How do we prepare?
Insure your house and business. There are many companies offering general insurance and the premium is quite affordable considering the benefits in case of a disaster. There are options for fire, theft, burglary, earthquake etc. We all invest in term plans for life insurance but definitely not with the intention to die so that the surviving family gets financial support. But if the inevitable happens, a part of our financial worries are resolved.
Invest in a fire resistant locker or safe large enough to store your basic jewelry, cash and papers. It is better to use a bank locker for more secure storage.
Make a list of all important papers, files and documents (birth certificate, school & college certificates, passport, PAN card, Aadhaar card, bank documents are your ID proofs) and organize them. Scan them and store in electronic format in your hard disk as well as portable hard disk or pen drive. The physical copies should be stored in one place so that they can be retrieved fast enough if required and given the opportunity.
Invest in a cloud – based solution like Dropbox and store a copy of these documents hence essentially keeping them away from your home or office.
One might argue that how do we prove the authenticity of the documents. A solution has been developed by Government of India, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) called Digital Locker. (To know more, visit: http://deity.gov.in/ and https://digitallocker.gov.in/)
(The 2 images below are screenshots from the official website)
I have been reading about fire on and off but hearing the practical complications and challenges from my relatives, I can comprehend the gravity of the crisis. Let us hope that such disasters don’t strike us but we do not know the future. So if a disaster does strike, let us be prepared to rebuild our lives and avoid all that we can.