KOCHI: More than 300 buildings in the city are fire unsafe. The shocking fact was revealed in a fire audit carried out by the Fire and Rescue Services Department. The audit, carried out in 450 buildings, comes as a huge shocker in the wake of the recent fire accidents at Thoppumpady and Broadway.
As per the report, Broadway and its branch roads top the list of fire-unsafe roads. Jos Junction, Pallimukku, Convent Road, Ernakulam North Station and premises, Combara Junction, Ernakulam Market and surroundings, KSRTC bus station to Rajaji Road and Mattanchery also feature in the list of unsafe roads in the city. Of these, Broadway, where hundreds work and visit on a daily basis, presents a scary picture.
The most important commercial stretch in the city, Broadway is a disaster waiting to happen due to the cramped buildings, most of which are over 40-50 years' old. The unrestricted sprouting of semi-permanent structures made of highly flammable materials like aluminium, plastic and wood adds to the danger. The kind of merchandise stored and the way of handling items by shop owners aggravate the issue.
“The whole stretch is old and most of the buildings have ancient electric wiring systems which lack the capacity to bear the voltage needs of today. Over 90 per cent of the accidents in the recent past have been due to electric short circuits. We have issued guidelines to shops to refurbish their wiring but not many have paid heed. The traders are rather unaware of the serious consequences,” said K K Shiju, Regional
Meanwhile, the shop owners at Broadway seem to be engaging in a blame game.“The wiring system of the majority of shops here is interconnected so even if we are willing to invest in the overhaul, the neighbouring shop owners are hesitant to shell out money. It's also the fault of the street vendors who have made the area so congested,” said Shanavaz, a wholesale spice trader whose family has been running the business for the last four decades.
The entrance to the street is six metres' wide on both ends but narrows down to just three metres in the middle making it difficult for the fire and rescue vehicles to pass through, as with other byroads.
The fire audit points to Mather Bazaar, a narrow inner lane in the market packed with retail and wholesale shops selling household plastic merchandise.
At only about two metres' wide, it is highly exposed to fire and such an occurrence would make it "impossible" for the fire brigade to enter and control the situation. Additionally, the reckless parking of two- and four-wheelers along the market stretch poses a great challenge in case of an emergency.
The report observed that the layout of the market with most roads leading to dead ends implies that there is no provision for a refuge area in the proximity.
A no-vehicle zone?
The Kochi Corporation seems to be mulling over the proposal to make Broadway market a no-vehicle zone. The suggestion was put forth by the Fire Department to curb unauthorised parking. "We have decided to conduct periodic audits and awareness programmes at all major markets in the city as part of our preparedness drill," said Shiju.
Giving a slew of suggestive measures, the report submitted by the department to the corporation proposes the building of a five-lakh-litre water tanker by the backwaters which would pump water into a hydrant network system which can be set up at a 30-metre distance from all identified sub-roads and lanes in the market. The department also intends to provide first aid firefighting devices to all shops.