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     Volume 8 Issue 62 | March 20, 2009 |

  Cover Story
  Straight Talk
  Special Feature
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  Writng the Wrong
  A Roman Column
  Star Diary
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To survive, you must know

Last Friday. 2:57PM. Basundhara City was capped with two floors of charcoal. There was very little sign of any flame from the road where a few hundred people had gathered. More were gathering on hearing about the fire.

Information later gathered confirmed that the mega shopping centre's control room had spotted the fire at 1.34PM. Such sophistication and they could not prevent the fire from starting.

That reminds me of the security personnel in my domestic premises. After discovering my priyo bicycle missing, I called him up over telephone. Such sophistication! He informed me nonchalantly that my bike was stolen at 12.39PM. You call that efficiency or what?

Back to the BC. Around 4.00PM. Some more floors atop the building lit up in a large flame. Thousands who had gathered by then rent the air merry (?) with spontaneous applause. They had come to see a 'show' and they have seen one. The mobile companies will benefit more from their talk time.

The crowd, surprised as one may be, may have clapped for any reason.

They were happy that their trip to the fire site and wait was not futile; they have been witness to a fire, a big fire. Perhaps it will be included in their visiting card. Otherwise, why should tens of thousands throng the place hindering fire-fighting?

They were happy they were outside of the towering inferno, and not inside. None of the shops inside were owned by them.

They were happy the building belonged to some rich people.

The building was used by rich people.
Those who shopped there were rich.
And those who toasted the large flame with cheer were not, or not that rich.
Such is the dissection in the society.
Alas! A fire can victimise anyone, poor or rich, young or old, boat or sheaf of paddy
People in this city and elsewhere have died in slum fires.
Thankfully, the opposition has not yet blamed the government, or vice versa.

We also learnt that since independence only two, repeat two, fire stations have been added to the then existing eleven in the capital of (they say) over one crore people.

The city has been growing laterally and vertically.

More buildings have become air-conditioned and therefore enclosed by fixed glass that can entrap fire.

Many of the tall 15-20 storied buildings in Dhaka have been constructed with less money than would have been otherwise required. They have managed with one staircase. In Bangla we call them makaal fawl. From outside fit-faat, inside they are Sadarghat. Why of all places, Sadarghat? Perhaps I will delve on that matter some other day.

Seriously speaking, every day we enter many premises without realising, or even thinking for a second, that we may be held hostage by fire that very day. The seven who died in the Basundhara fire incident came to office routinely last Friday; never to return to their loved ones. What about the children who did not want their father to go to office ever? Duty bound, he escaped from them to go to work. Every life, and death, has such a story.

Grievous mistakes have been made in our buildings by greed (for instance, not wanting to sacrifice square foot for alternate staircase/s), by lack of knowledge (for instance, not knowing even professionally that two staircases is not the solution in each and every building, one may need more than two), by collaboration between parties and professionals concerned (or unconcerned).

It is not scientific thinking to assume that the fire services shall find out the errors in all our buildings. As one commentator on television said, we must assume responsibility of safety at the level of each residence, each apartment building, each office premises, each mercantile building, each school, each university, each factory, every hospital, each slum, each hut, each shopping centre, each shop, every cinema hall, each auditorium, each restaurant.... Let the self inspection begin now and today.

Find out if you can prevent the start of a fire where you work, where you live, where you study, where you entertain. Are all the electromechanical connections in order? Older buildings are more vulnerable.

Find out if you have enough precautionary measures. Are the doors able to contain fire when you shut them behind you, as you flee?

Find out if you can escape from a fire. Is there the alternate means of leaving a place on fire? Public and unknown places are more hazardous.

Find out if you can attack a fire in the very first few seconds. For that you will need fire detection and alarm system. A complex building may require automation.

If there is ONE staircase in your university building, make an application to the authorities now so that they install an alternate staircase at a suitable place tomorrow, if need be outside the building with steel elements, if need be by making a hole in the floor slab.

If there is NO fire detection and alarm system in your 20-storied air-conditioned glass-encased building, ask for one now. If there is, find out if it works.

If you have not had a fire drill in your factory ever, have one today, so that everyone knows what to do and no one panics when fire strikes. It can, anywhere, at any time.

If you do not see a fire extinguisher in a shopping centre, ask why. Get one for your CNG-driven car today. If you see extinguishers, find out if the material inside is up to date. You may be surprised.

What about those who cannot walk away from a fire, let alone run? Have we ever thought how we shall evacuate patients from a hospital that has caught fire up in the sky?

If you mean business, talk about fire.

If you want to survive, it is not enough that you know. Make sure everyone else does.

P.S. I took the help of a professional to learn the above for our benefit. Why don't you?


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