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Friday , November 12 , 2010
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School fire at noon sparks fear
Computer room AC likely culprit

Moumita Sarkar was in the kitchen in her Duttabagan home with a casual eye on the television screen when a piece of “breaking news” made her go cold with fear. A fire had broken out in Hindu School.

The 32-year-old housewife dropped everything and rushed from Belgachhia to College Street with tears in her eyes and a prayer on her lips for her 11-year-old son, Sourabh Sarkar, a Class VI student of the 193-year-old school where the computer lab was ablaze.

“I have never been so scared in my life,” said Sarkar, who finally found Sourabh on the Presidency College ground along with a hundred-odd students of Hindu School and their anxious parents.

Around 11.55am, a blaze broke out in the second-floor computer lab. Four fire tenders took around 45 minutes to fight the fire that was probably sparked by a malfunctioning air-conditioner.

The lab with 27 computers was gutted but no injuries were reported. The three faculty members present in the lab at the time of the blaze managed to escape unhurt.

A little before noon, an assistant sub-inspector from Amherst Street police station, who was standing opposite the school, heard “an explosion” from an AC on the second floor. “I ran into the school and alerted the authorities,” said Paresh Chandra Biswas.

Around the same time, the three faculty members in the computer lab spotted smoke billowing from one of the three ACs. They rushed out and sounded the alarm.

Teachers and senior school students helped evacuate younger boys from the six classrooms on the second floor. The students were taken to the safety of the Presidency College ground.

“Had the fire occurred 15 minutes later there would have been around 15 children inside the computer lab. We had called a section of Class XII students to complete their computer project,” said a teacher.

Headmaster Shyamnarayan Bandopadhyay said close to 700 students were attending the day shift, along with 50 teachers. “We managed to evacuate them all. No one was injured.”

Senior officials of the fire department found the school “severely lacking in” fire-fighting preparedness, starting with the mandatory no-objection certificate.

“Barring a few fire extinguishers, the school has nothing to combat any type of fire. We have told the headmaster to bring the school under the purview of the fire department and also given a few recommendations,” said a fire department officer.

The recommendations include:

• ensuring two entries and exits for classrooms

• installing an auto-flooding system in computer labs

• putting up powder-based fire extinguishers

• building a reservoir

• training of staff in evacuation

• installing fire sensors and alarms.

“Had there been students inside the computer lab at that time or if the fire had broken out in any of the classrooms, the consequences could have been disastrous,” said a fire officer supervising the operation at Hindu School.

The fear that the fire during school hours sparked among parents was all too evident on Thursday. “School is one place where we feel that our children are safe, but....,” trailed off the mother of a Class III boy, huddled on the Presidency College ground.

On October 29, a blaze had gutted two Presidency chemistry labs in the Derozio building where chemicals and gas cylinders were kept.

Hindu School was set up in 1817 and its alumni include Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Keshab Chandra Sen, Satyendranath Bose and Chhabi Biswas.

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