|Students of Chotanagpur Girls’ High School (top) in Tharpakhna, Ranchi, are at high risk because the cradle keeps its fire extinguishers (above right) locked up and doesn’t know how to use them. (Above left) DAV Nandraj has sand buckets to tackle blaze, but narrow approach road is a bane. Picture by Hardeep Singh
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But, playthings mustn’t include fire.
There are around 3,000 government and private schools in and around Ranchi, but barely 10 per cent of them boast the mandatory no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department. Worse, the management of many of the-se cradles doesn’t have the faintest idea about what fire safety on campus means.
On March 31, 80 toddlers of a private preparatory school in Bariatu had a close shave when a blaze broke out in an adjoining godown. While the school wasn’t directly at fault, it was certainly guilty of not being equipped and was lucky the fire was contained before it could spread.
Last week, a short circuit sparked a minor fire at a government primary school in Kanke. Fortunately, it was late afternoon and the school was closed for the day. Earlier this week, a big blaze gutted a prominent bakery on Main Road, resulting in losses to the tune of Rs 50 lakh.
A Nor’wester freeze and the soaring mercury are as much to be blamed for fire frequency as are schools and other establishments that ignore safety protocol. The NOC is a certification issued by the fire department to a building that is blaze-proof. The other prerequisites are prominently displaying fire brigade numbers and emergency exit maps on campus, besides mandatory blaze-battling gear.
Principal of Chotanagpur Girls’ High School, Tharpakhna, Rekha Sinha seemed to have little idea about a fire NOC. She boasted of the cradle having “four cylinders (read fire extinguishers)”, which were found locked inside a cupboard because “no one knew how to use them”. Validity of the fire extinguishers could not be ascertained because there weren’t any dates mentioned.
The high school has 350 students in Classes VI to X, and another 100 in its primary section. On whether the management was unnecessarily risking the lives of 450 children, principal Sinha insisted she was a new recruit. “I joined in February this year. I cannot tell you much. All I know is that we never faced a fire threat.”
If there hasn’t been a fire so far, it doesn’t mean there never will be one. Common sense says government schools must be better prepared for fire mishaps because midday meal is cooked daily and shoddy electrical wiring lack proper insulation.
A kilometre from the ill-equipped girls’ cradle stands Rajkiyakrit High School, tucked at the end of dingy and narrow lanes of Tharpakhna. This school has no money for fire safety.
Principal Emelda Toppo maintained that a couple of year ago, two fire extinguishers were sent from the government, but they were never refilled. “Ek baar mila toh tha, par fir dukan mein gaya gas ke liye aur nahi aaya. Mujhe pata karwana hoga,” she said.
She added the school till Class VIII had 104 students, but only three members of staff, indicating they had more pressing issues that needed to be addressed.
Many private cradles are equally ill prepared.
DAV Nandraj in the busy Lalpur area flaunts fire extinguishers and sand buckets on each of its three floors, and at the computer lab and library. But, poor connectivity remains a threat. The narrow approach to the campus barely allows an auto-rickshaw in, a fire tender in times of emergency is out of question.
“Now, we don’t govern roads. Besides, narrow roads is the problem of the whole of Ranchi,” said an official, not sure whether the school had a fire NOC.
Bishop School in Bahu Bazaar, which has 1,800 students on its rolls till Class X, claimed routine fire drills. Principal S.K. Bright insisted on having 25 fire extinguishers. Not a single was spotted anywhere on campus. “Actually, we have sent them for repairing and refilling,” Bright said, adding they had four water tanks, wide stairway and sand buckets.
Neither state fire officer Mahanand Singh nor Audrey House fire station in-charge Bharat Ram could say for certain how many schools had sought blaze clearance.
District education officer Shivcharan Marandi too seemed unaware of the status of fire safety in schools. He passed the buck to the district superintendent of education. DSE Jayant Mishra didn’t receive calls on Sunday.