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FIRE SERMON

Inertia could be a dangerous thing. The fire department has been trying to jog the rail authorities from their false sense of security regarding the fire safety infrastructure in Howrah station — to not much avail so far. This is particularly strange, since there is now a new drive to raise awareness about precautions against fire inside the trains, following some recent accidents. The fire department had sent a divisional officer to the station and related premises to check on how prepared these places are for emergencies. And what he had to say was not very encouraging. The main station, the divisional railway manager’s office and other buildings in the site are all more or less unprepared to put out fires, just as they are all unsafe enough to start major ones any day. The available infrastructure for putting out fires is “almost negligible”.

First, the kitchens in the various canteens and cafés are all terribly unsafe. Numerous gas cylinders are used here, together with some kerosene stoves, but never according to the safety rules. Second, about 80 per cent of the hydrants in the entire area do not work, although in case of a fire these are supposed to be the main source of water. These hydrants are ancient and have not been cleaned for ages. The fire department has written to the station authorities with detailed instructions as to how this infrastructure could be upgraded — what to do with the gas cylinders in the kitchen, how to keep the hydrants and the underground water-tank in working condition, where to set up pumps and what sort of extinguishers to put up where, how the railway protection force and other personnel should be trained to prevent and fight fires, and so on. The authorities seem to be playing the situation down. The river is nearby, and there are plenty of large entrances and exits in the station for people to run out of if they are suddenly caught in a fire. These are the chief reasons for their comfortableness with the existing state of things. The Howrah station complex supports an immense human network. Looking away from their own upreparedness and ignoring the fire department’s recommendations could end up being a serious, and fatal, breach of responsibility.

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