THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The fire and rescue services department has recommended a slew of measures to prevent fire in the Chalai market. The department submitted a report in that regard to the district collector in the light of the recent fire incident at a toy shop in Chalai. Installing fixed fire safety equipment in buildings, preventing largescale storage and clearing passageways are among the recommendations to be followed by shops. According to officials, over 15 fire incidents have occurred in the Chalai market over the past decade.
A fire audit conducted by the fire department had observed that a large number of shops in the market are in a precarious state and at the risk of a potential fire outbreak. As many as three danger zones have been identified in Chalai. “In the whole of Chalai, we have noticed that fire always happens in these three zones,” a source said.
The market has been divided into six zones based on the type of merchandise and the risk factor of a possible fire. Since 2015, the department has been conducting regular fire audits in the Chalai market.
“After a huge fire incident in 2014, we had prepared a report with suggestions that included setting up hydrants. Considering the market and its geography, with dingy streets, movement is an issue. So is tapping into water supply. That’s why setting up of hydrants is important,” said an official.
During the fire in the toy shop, fire tenders had to replenish water and rely on the Padmatheertha pond nearby. Water was pumped using a high-pressure pump, reiterating the need to set up hydrants in the vicinity. Earlier, 26 hydrant points were identified in the market which was later reduced to 17. But the recommendation was never carried through.
In most shops, the terrace has been turned into a garage to stock up goods. Such unauthorised constructions pose a huge risk. A majority of the shops have single entry points and this is a huge dampener when it comes to firefighting, said Suvi M S, district fire officer.“The entry and exit are the same in most of the shops. This is a huge hindrance and increases risk. Further, most shops are filled to the ceiling with their stock. The passageways also remain packed with stock. During a fire and rescue operation, evacuation cannot be done and casualties could increase. When we don’t have an approach space, it is a challenge,” Suvi said.
During the audit, the officials also found gross violations like shops refashioning the upper storey into staff quarters.“These places are crammed with people, and LPG cylinders too are kept there. All these are catalysts for a fire,” said an official. It is the geography of the streets and the construction style of the shops that pose a huge risk at the time of a fire outbreak. The unauthorised construction and added structures, along with a lack of discipline in storing goods, increases risk.
“Instead of viewing them as individual shops, we have to consider the market as a huge single shopping unit and make a master plan to address the issues. The greatest risk is that, due to its nature of construction, a fire could easily spread from one shop to another,” said Praveen D, station officer, fire and rescue station.
During the last fire, there wasn’t much traffic or rush in the streets, which proved an advantage, he said.
“We managed to douse the fire easily. But that doesn’t happen often. In any fire, the response time is the key. The faster we get to the spot, the easier it is to manage fire,” Praveen said.Setting up a mini fire station near Chalai has been among the major recommendations of the department. Earlier recommendations also included setting up a control room and a public announcement system to help alert nearby fire stations, and the shops, of a fire outbreak.