The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pandal blazes on the wane

BIBHASH GUHA, divisional officer (B), West Bengal Fire Services, met readers of The Telegraph in his office on Wednesday to answer their queries. Participants included Sandip Banerjee, Ajay Ghosh, Jitendranath Das, Subir Kar, Rajat Dasgupta, Shibabrata Majumdar, Rathin Das and Kamalendu Banerjee

Subir Kar: Mushrooming of illegal shops and encroachment of roads and pavements by traders have made Burrabazar almost inaccessible to the fire brigade. The incidence of fires in the area has also gone up in recent times. How are you preparing to fight fire in Burrabazar'

The Burrabazar market has grown in an unorganised manner over the past 150 years. Those who run the businesses are so obsessed with making money that they don't even have the time to bother about the safety of their stock. Even the staircases of some buildings have been rented out.

During every fire prevention week, we conduct awareness campaigns among the traders, but in vain. More than 50 fires occur in the Burrabazar area every year.

Rathin Das: Are there more fires during Durga puja or Kali puja'

It is generally believed that there are more fires during Kali puja. However, the number of fires during pujas has gone down considerably in recent times due to imposition of the fire-safety norms. There used to be around 15 fires during Durga puja and over 100 fires during Kali puja. In 2005, there was only one fire during Durga puja and no fires at all during Kali puja.

Shibabrata Majumdar: The fire brigade services used to be free until recently. How can an institution run by the government charge money for helping people in distress'

The state government introduced the fee for providing fire services. However, we don't charge money from everyone. We serve hospitals, government offices, non-commercial establishments and educational institutions free of cost. Commercial establishments, which ask for fire reports from us, are charged for the services rendered.

Dousing a blaze is a costly affair. If 10 fire tenders work for eight hours to put out a fire, we charge only Rs 40,000 from a business establishment. The state government spends much more to provide the service.

Ajay Ghosh: Why is the fire brigade known as domkol in Bengal'

In the early days of the fire brigade in the city, during the British period, a special dynamo-like device used to be installed in glass cases in different parts of the city. The device could be used to alert the fire brigade.

In the event of a fire, the case had to broken and the handle of the device wound up. It was the duty of the caller to wait beside the device till the firefighters reached the spot and then escort them to the blaze. The device used to be domkol.

Sandip Banerjee: Puja pandals are constructed with combustible material like clothes, jute, bamboo and plywood. Why don't you apply fire-retardant chemicals on the pandals'

Fire prevention has always been the onus of the puja organisers. What we offer is technical know-how and directions to create provisions for firefighters.

In 2005, we lodged FIRs against nine puja committees for not following directives issued by the West Bengal Fire and Emergency Service. Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee has announced that the committees will be denied permission to hold pujas this year.

Kamalendu Banerjee: Which are the high-risk buildings in the city'

Markets, cinema and theatre halls, mulitplexes, underground facilities and nursing homes are regarded as high-risk structures. It is mandatory for the building managements to obtain no-objection certificates from the fire brigade.

To be continued

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