Building plan key to fire safety: SK Dheri

The drawing board of an architect should be the starting point for the fire safety of a building but that rarely happens, an expert said at a workshop in Calcutta. “The lack of political will and fire safety awareness are some of the stumbling blocks in implementing fire safety in urban areas,” said S.K. Dheri, former Delhi Fire Services chief who was at the helm during the Uphaar fire tragedy in 1997.

Dheri was speaking at a Workshop on National Building Code of India 2016: Fire and Life Safety, organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Bureau of Indian Standards.
The NBC provides guidelines for construction activities – from building material to emergency exits to sprinklers and parking lots. The code deals in fire safety requirements in structural design and construction. It was first published in 1970 at the instance of the Planning Commission. After multiple revisions, the Bureau of Indian Standards has come out with NBC 2016 that is broadly divided into 13 parts. Part 4 deals in fire and life safety.

The guidelines are advisory and not binding on state governments or civic bodies that grant sanctions for building constructions, a civic engineer said. “We try to follow the guidelines.”
Building fires can be prevented by proper implementation of the NBC 2016, Devendra Kumar Shami, the fire adviser to the Centre’s Directorate General of Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards, said.

But he stressed on the collective responsibility of all stakeholders – architects, contractors, builders and residents. “Only 11 states are implementing NBC guidelines at the moment. It should be made mandatory for all states.” There have been 316,000 fires in the country between 2001 and 2014. More than 300,000 people have died. “That is 60 deaths on average daily,” Dheri said. Builders don’t want to incur additional expense on anything. So, the challenge for regulatory agencies and fire departments is not to compromise on safety but make the norms economically reasonable, Dheri said. The lack of fire safety education is a “big problem” as well, he said.