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TRAPPED IN FIRE

The belatedness of the ‘lessons’ learnt from a fatal accident is part of the tragedy of such an occurrence. Twenty-six passengers were burnt to death in the air-conditioned coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express, early Saturday morning. Those who have survived the fire are now helping to piece together the circumstances that led to this terrible accident. First, when the passengers were woken by the fire, they could find no fire extinguishers. Later, it was found out that the coach did have a couple of extinguishers. But there were no trained attendants around who could use these extinguishers or help the passengers access them. Second, there were inadequate provisions for making emergency exits, since the windows of AC coaches are mostly sealed, and passengers found themselves trapped in the coach. Third, in spite of the alertness of the driver — who stopped the train and isolated the burning coach early enough to prevent the fire from spreading along the length of the train — it took a while before the driver realized that the alarm chain was being pulled repeatedly, and there were no other means of internal communication between the driver and the passengers. Finally, air-conditioning units have to be particularly well-attended since the risk of dangerous short-circuits is much higher in them, given that the railways ministry keeps the more fire-resistant coaches only for the more ‘important’ trains.

These are forms of oversight that could have been taken care of pre-emptively, and this could well have made the magnitude of the accident less tragic. Indifference to avoidable danger is almost like a national characteristic in India, which is adept at doling out compensations and promising inquiries after tragic accidents, yet unable to maintain regimes of alertness and safety as part of the technical and administrative imperatives of running certain services and facilities.