Civilian fire disaster

Fire remains a major cause of loss of life and property. India has witnessed many tragic fire accidents. Being a dependant of many types of ignition processes, fire can occur anywhere – residential areas, commercial buildings, slums, offices, industries, trains, transportation corridors, multi-level basements/parking, etc. The life loss due to fire accidents has increased over the years. Much of the reaction to these fire accidents has been rescue and relief and no proactive fire risk management measures are in place in many states. 

Examples of which are:

  1. Uphar Cinema (1997)
  2. Kamala mills (2017)
  3. Surat coaching fire tragedy (2019)

Reasons for increased fire risk

Fire risk, both existing and emerging, is a continuum. Each day with economic development, emerging technologies, shortage of prime land and lifestyle changes we are continuously adding to existing fire risks.

1. More focus on fighting rather than fire risk management: Despite fire being a major disaster, fire safety remains response driven. Therefore, there is limited focus on fire engineering and other risk management issues such as audit, awareness, capacity building & technology application. 
2. Urban focus on current fire response: Peri-urban and rural areas, often observing unregulated growth lack in fire management. Absence of supply water makes it difficult to take off fire. 
3. Fire prone areas in urban areas: Areas with unplanned development and old areas of cities are extremely vulnerable to fire. These areas have narrow lanes and highly populated which make it difficult for fire tenders to enter. 
4. Fire safety is more supply driven than demand driven: There is a huge deficit of knowledge among stakeholders like municipalities, builders, architects & engineers. 
5. Climate change: Climate change and resulting in rising temperatures has resulted in more fires & created heat island effect. Climate change also increases probability of fire in rural areas and fire in agricultural lands/grasslands. 
6. Inadequate capacity of fire safety agencies: 

  • Coverage of fire brigade in India is limited. 
  • Fire services are thinly staffed. 
  • Absence of water sources close to fire site
  • Fire services has been mostly developed in urban areas.
  • Building byelaws and norms are not adhered to. 
  • Limited financial resources
  • Absence of coordinate response various agencies involved in fire management. 

7. Proliferation of high-rise buildings: Economic development and rapid urbanisation have resulted in construction of high-rise buildings. 

  1. In case of fire in high rise buildings fatalities are higher because of many people are present in buildings, less awareness of exit routes and longer time for firefighters to put down the fire. 
  2. These high rises have barricades and security checks that delay the evacuation process.
  3. These days the residential buildings are using a multitude of materials like PVC foam, Upholstery etc., whose fire safety standards are not certified. 

8. In industrial areas: Industrial fires tend to spread faster and cause huge economic loss.

  1. Fire safety norms are not able to keep up with risks posed by advanced technology and new material used in industrial process. 
  2. Wear and tear of machinery, warehousing of raw and finished goods is often ignored into fire safety measures. 
  3. Unorganised sectors are not properly monitored and often compromise on overall fire safety. 

9. Transportation networks: With increase of transport of inflammable material fire risk has increased too. 

  1. In hilly areas in case of fire in a tunnel limited capacity exists to control the fire.
  2. Addition of new services like metro rail, monorail etc. has increased fire risk too.
  3. EVs relying on lithium-ion batteries faced an increased risk of fire. Battery charging stations are being planned in petrol pumps this can increase risk of fire. 

10. Data centres, multi-level parking, piped gas transportation, nuclear power plants also pose increased risk of fire.

Way forward

  1. Fire prevention and fire risk mitigation:
    • Building permission process needs to be in sync with the fire regulations.
    • Certification of fire safety for building materials and their fire rating. 
    • Less use of prefabricated material/plastic boards, glass and ACP claddings in construction. 
    • Educating all users of buildings on the safe usage of buildings.
    • Incorporating best practices into fire management for instance in urban planning to make smart cities fire resilient. 
    • Building codes need to be more dynamic with more frequent revisions. 
    • Focus on fire safety measures norms, implementation and monitoring by fire safety audits to reduce the risks of fire. 
  2. Relief from fire disaster:
    • Setting up/upgrading fire stations in both rural and urban areas. 
    • Constructing water storage tanks at suitable locations for use in emergencies.
    • More emphasis on fire safety norms in high rise buildings, large industries and fire prone sectors. 
    • Financial incentives need to be channelised into fire services to reduce lack of funds. 
    • Innovating funding through PPP must be incorporated into fire management. 
    • Fire services should be expanded to rural and peri-urban areas too.
    • A roadmap for future growth trajectory of fire services in both the short and long term needs to be prepared. 
    • Capacity building of fire service personnel’s need with specialised training and education. 
    • Documenting and sharing lessons learnt from fire incidents.
    • Affix consequences for non-compliance of rules and responsibilities. 
    • In developed countries, fire services form the first line on response to any disaster or emergency. We should upgrade our fire services in a manner that firefighters become first responders in case of any disasters or emergency. 
  3. Use of new technologies in fire response: 
    • Adopting modern technology such as water mist, drones, hand-held laser infra-red cameras and remote-controlled robots equipped with thermal imaging cameras for firefighting operations.
    • Reducing response in fire accidents by use of mobile fire stations.
  4. Institutional reforms: 
    • While State governments are responsible for fire management, central government also needs to be proactive in providing scientific and policy directions. 
    • Enhanced focus on intra-agency coordination with fire service during to limiting the damage.
  5. Awareness: 
    • Strong emphasis should be placed on creating awareness among different stakeholders. 
    • Engaging and training local community for fire response by conducting regular mock drills. 
    • Guidelines of NDMA on Fire Services need to be updated. 


Fire safety is a concern for everyone and that we need to strive towards “Fire Safety for all.” 

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