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Lift shaft fire in court

A fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon in garbage piled over the years in an abandoned lift shaft in the Alipore Police Court building, which officers said lacked basic safety tools like smoke detectors and sprinklers.

The 20-year-old, three-storeyed building houses eight courts and the court of the chief judicial magistrate.

Two tenders took an hour to douse the flames.

The shaft is sealed on all floors as no lift has ever been installed in it. There are two small gaps on the shaft’s wall on the second floor, through which firefighters inserted water channels to douse the blaze.

“There was no way to access the fire point on the ground and first floors. We had to spray water through two gaps on the shaft’s wall on the second floor,” said one of the firefighters.

Around 12.15pm, Madhusudan Gupta was standing outside court number 3 on the second floor when the corridor started filling up with thick smoke.

“The smoke was entering the building through two rectangular gaps on the wall. Soon the entire floor was full of thick black smoke. There was a stampede-like situation and everybody was trying to rush out of the building,” said Gupta.

Bikash Mahapatra, a senior lawyer, said all eight courts in the building were in session when the fire broke out.

“The judges left the court and lawyers and other people were asked to evacuate,” said Mahapatra.

Firefighters who were involved in dousing the blaze said garbage in the lift shaft had piled up till the first floor.

“It seems the place was being use as a garbage dump. People used to throw tea cups, paper and cigarette butts into the lift shaft through the gaps. Over the years, the garbage has piled up in the lift shaft,” said an engineer of the public works department that looks after the maintenance of the building.

Over the past three years the government has been cracking down on private establishments lacking fire-safety measures without putting its house in order.

After the fire in AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, in December in 2011, the government formed a task force that visited several markets and hospitals in the city to check their fire-fighting preparedness.

A hospital on Shakespeare Sarani was shut for several months after it was found to be lacking fire-safety measures.

“The building in Alipore court did not even have fire detectors and water sprinklers. People stand in the corridors of the court and smoke but we did not find any fire extinguisher in the corridors,” said the fire department official.