THIS is with reference to the report ‘Lives could have been saved if fire tenders have arrived on time’ (Aug 29). The statement, made in the context of the recent factory fire tragedy in Karachi, is incorrect and diverts attention from the actual causes — both immediate and underlying ones — leading to such a tragic accident.
In fire response, the most important parameter is fire growth rate. Most fires, especially those involving inflammable chemicals, take no more than two to five minutes to develop from initial ignition to a full-scale blaze.
Unless the fire growth rate is checked at the initial stage — within the first few tens of seconds — by the application of manual suppression or automatic suppression system in the shape of sprinklers, it will grow into a fully developed fire which is very difficult to control.
Successful escape and egress demand early detection and warning, detection of smouldering/smoke within seconds, raising of alarm, initiation of escape and evacuation, and, of course, adequate number and size of escape routes, depending on the number of personnel, should be available.
A fire brigade can only be considered protective if the provisions of initial fire suppression and escape are available. Apparently, at the Mehran Town factory, there was neither any manual fire intervention provision nor was there a sprinkler in place. And, apparently, escape and egress provision was inadequate, if at all.
So, lives could not have been saved if the fire tenders had arrived earlier than they actually did. Lives could have been saved had the factory-owner learned lessons from the Baldia factory fire, Bangladesh factory fires and hundreds of other cases. The factory-owner should have conducted a comprehensive fire hazard management study and implemented the required fire prevention, mitigation and control measures as per the legal obligations under the Sindh Building Control Act and international best practices.
The government inspectors and regulators should have done their job honestly and ensured that the required fire safety measures were in place. The stakeholders, including the owners, should have valued human life.
Sadly, the learning disability of the industry and the regulators is depressing.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2021