POST TIME: 12 July, 2021 07:00:00 PM
Fire tragedy and where is its end
The collapsible gate on the fourth floor of the building was locked so that the workers could not go upstairs and they could not go down because of the fire below, which led to their tragic death in the middle.
Majhar Mannan

Fire tragedy and where is its end

Every day new fresh life is being added to the procession of corpses of Bangladesh due to the Covid-19 epidemic, and at the same time the death of more than 50 people in the horrific fire at Rupganj in Narayanganj is a very heartbreaking and tragic event. Fire accidents are nothing new in Bangladesh and many people die every year in Bangladesh due to fire accidents and such fires are frequent in various factories including garment factories in Bangladesh.

Fire accidents happen in garment factories, other factories, multi-storey buildings, commercial buildings, residential buildings, shopping malls and markets and many people die and infinite loss of resources occurs. A fire at the Hashem Food and Beverage Limited factory in the Karnagop area of ​​Rupganj in Narayanganj has snatched away the lives of 52 people and destroyed countless assets. Many jumped out of the building to escape the fire, and some died on the spot. According to the fire service, the gate of the building was locked, causing a number of workers to burn to death on the floor, which is truly tragic.

The collapsible gate on the fourth floor of the building was locked so that the workers could not go upstairs and they could not go down because of the fire below, which led to their tragic death in the middle. There was no alternative stairs and doors to get out of the building quickly which prevented the workers from getting out quickly. Most of the workers in the factory were children and teenagers. There were no adequate fire extinguishers, or there were no trained people to use them. Firefighting gas cylinders were inadequate. 18 fire service units worked to contain the blaze, and after a long time they were able to bring the fire under control.

However, such fires continue to occur and more than 70 people were killed and huge financial losses were incurred in the horrific fire at Chawkbazar in Dhaka. A catastrophic fire in Dhaka's Nimtali in 2010 killed 124 people and caused extensive property damage. Experts believe that despite repeated fire incidents, no effective and permanent measures can be taken to prevent them. 600 workers died in fires in the country since 2006 and 117 workers died in a devastating fire at Tazreen Fashion in 2012. Experts say that fire safety equipment is not installed in many buildings and if it is installed somewhere, it is not maintained properly, which is why such accidents often occur.

Experts also say that following the National Building Code should be made mandatory for fire safety. Building construction laws and regulations are often not followed properly and building construction fire regulations are not followed properly which can lead to such incidents. According to experts, most of the factories do not have the exit required for quick exit in case of fire and fire drills are not done regularly in factories. Many factories have fire extinguishers but many do not know how to operate them due to lack of training and do not have adequate water supply to extinguish fires. In many factories, the stairs are so narrow that workers rush to the bottom and die in the event of an accident.

Experts say that the factory's transformers, generators, power substations and other electrical equipment need to be regularly inspected and monitored to prevent major accidents at any time. Many buildings have fire alarm systems but they are not properly maintained or they do not work properly. Eleven hundred people were killed after the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, and building security has been tightened since then but has not yet reached adequate levels.

The fire service had to spend 20 hours to bring the fire under control at the Hashem Foods Limited, but experts say that there is also a need to investigate why it took so long. It took a long time to bring the fire under control and that is why the number of casualties has increased. Experts believe that fires need to be extinguished based on the type of combustible substances in a place. In many cases fire cannot be brought under control just by sprinkling water, but by mixing other chemicals with water, fire can be brought under control quickly.

According to the Bangladesh Factory Inspection Department, if there are chemicals and combustible substances in a building, then the information must be submitted to the local Factory Inspection Department. But letters from the factory inspection department have been issued more than once to inspect the Hashem Food building, but government agencies have not been able to inspect any floors due to lack of permission. According to the Fire Service, fire accidents occur in various places including buildings every year due to various reasons and the main reason for this is stove fire, electricity connection and cigarette fire. The fire service believes that such accidents are exacerbated by the misplacement of combustible materials in buildings.

According to the Fire Service, there were 17,488 fires in the country till 2015 and it has steadily increased to 21073 by 2020. In July this year, there was an explosion in a building at Magbazar and the latest was a terrible fire at Hashem Food in Rupganj. Fire service officials believe that the inspection department and local administration need to regularly monitor the security arrangements inside the factories, electricity connections, gas connections and combustible materials.

According to the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, the main reason for the recurrence of such fires is the lack of appropriate punishment for the accused. Factory authorities are often reluctant to improve firefighting systems and cause accidents. This organization believes that fire incidents should be investigated impartially and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. According to Article 121 of the ILO Convention, it is necessary to provide adequate compensation and ensure the well-being and future safety of injured workers. However, even before the catastrophic fire, the Hashem Food building caught fire, but it did not spread much. If the authorities had been aware then, so many lives would not have been lost today. According to the fire service, the Hashem Food building had a lot of combustible material which caused the fire and took a long time to control it. Moreover, the fire service thinks that the factory's own fire-fighting capacity and safety measures were not adequate.

The gate of the Hashem Food building was closed at the time of the accident and it was an expression of gross negligence which led to many deaths and the same happened to Tazreen Fashion. However, after a large fire, there is a lot of noise for a few days, but in the womb of time it gradually disappears. Experts believe that there is not enough initiative to regularly monitor the factories and the necessary policies and guidelines are needed. There should be a fair and impartial investigation to prevent such accidents and adequate steps should be taken as per the investigation report otherwise it will be repeated.

In the last 15 years, 2,317 people died in fires and 12374 people were injured. According to the Fire Service, 485 people died in fire accidents and 3868 were injured from 2006 to 2008. From 2009 to 2013, 1128 people died in the fire and 5817 people were injured.  From 2014 to 2018, 365 people died in fire and 1732 people were injured. 185 people died and 471 were injured in 2019. In 2020, 154 people died and 386 people were injured.  204 people died and 1706 were injured while participating in firefighting and rescue operations. 

Experts believe that appropriate firefighting measures should be taken and the use of modern technology should be increased. Experts say that the fire service and civil defense need to be modernized. It is possible to prevent the recurrence of such horrific fires by taking a concerted and effective initiative. There is no substitute for public awareness to prevent fire accidents and at the same time factory workers must be trained so that they can get out safely in the event of a fire accident. Factory authorities should be compelled to abide by the law and at the same time take necessary steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

The writer is Assistant Professor, B A F Shaheen College, Kurmitola, Dhaka Cantonment.