Whenever there is a fire incidence in Indian Railways, everyone wakes up. Instructions are reiterated in the rhetoric and bureaucratic way by opening the dust laden file. Minutes of the previous meeting are explored and action report called for on the deliberation. Directives are issued for inspection drive, counselling, checks and super checks at all levels and furnish compliance within next 15 days. Generally there is no progress on the last minutes because the deliberations were of casual nature only. Such actions are generally to buy time and wishing that there will not be any repetition during his term of office. Fire incidence cannot be very large in number, maximum one per year and sufficient grounds not to bother much. The procedure continues with repeating of incidence and simultaneous repeating of sermon without any long-term policy and plan to carry out.
History of Fire management in Indian Railways
During 80’s, the fire management was under the control of Security Department i.e. Railway Protection Force with the designated officer at HQ called ASC/Fire. Assuring accessibility of fire extinguisher, bucket with water and sand at each station and working place. The fire brigade was located at important yards with duties assigned to the Security Department. Fire safety is a technical subject and RPF department found itself handicapped in dealing such matters. For this reason, the system was decentralized with every department made responsible for his own jurisdiction. This has left many unanswered questions about the arrangement for standardization of technical specifications, its upgradation, auditing, etc., along with areas having mixed responsibilities such as Railway Station, Hospital, Office building, etc. Everyone is afraid of opening this chapter and preparing a Fire policy. The stakes for responsibility towards fire incidences is very high, and therefore, keeping it under opaque cover is a better option. The fire policy, if laid down, will cover areas of the specification of material used in the manufacturing and construction, system of detection depending upon severity of consequential damages, automatic or manual and type of fire fighting systems, fire fighting and administrative responsibility in case of fire. So the gray areas of management responsibility continue!
You don’t have to go abroad to learn the best of fire policy and its management
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is delivering a very detailed laid down policy on fire, mainly drawn from NFPA-130 of USA and implemented without any dilution at any point. The system includes measures to prevent the origin of fire through incorporating design features, detection and need base extinguish methods. Now, Delhi Govt. has constituted a committee to prepare policy framework and regulation for fire safety which can be followed by all other new Metro System. Metro system is an enclosed area with defined territory and pathways to escape, makes the fire management system more challenging. Therefore, very stringent norms will not be required for Indian railways where most of the territory is non-air conditioned and easy for the passenger to escape.
Recommendations of High Level Safety Committee
Why Indian Railways is failing to have a detailed policy on this subject? Even High Level Safety Committee headed by Sh. Kakodker and Sh. E. Shreedharan as adviser failed to call for the Fire Policy from Indian Railways and dealt the subject of fire on passenger coaches in a casual manner. Look at the deficiency and the recommendations:
Third party audit of engineering practice for prevention:
Is Indian Railway confidant of specifying and testing all products used in the fabrication of a coach complying fire-retardant, low smoke and zero halogen product. If IR is sure of this, then top management shall call for a third party audit of the specification and its compliance. This will build confidence on the fire preparedness of the Indian Railways. During last fire incidents, the issue has been raised even about the specification of paints used (what to say of other materials such as curtain, raxine, plastic etc.) in the manufacturing because paint was found burning like crude, as it is the main raw material used in its manufacturing.
Indian Railways shall consider seriously on third-party audit of the specification of materials used in the coach manufacturing and its compliance.
Salient points for consideration to prevent, detect and extinguish fire
- Norms for prevention of fire incidence are laid down in details in different acts and not very difficult to make a beginning in IR.
- Indian Railways shall conduct fire sensitivity analysis of different areas depending on various norms such as method of detection, severity in terms of losses it may cause to property and life, fire fighting measures etc. This may be identified and numbered as Level I to III.
- Detection is based on smoke detectors and CCTV cameras and the norms are well-defined. Indian Railway territory is generally well occupied, and therefore, manual detection is generally resorted at all places. Smoke detectors are only used in fully air conditioned office buildings. There are very important locations such as Record room, equipment room of RRI/panel interlocking, unmanned substations, etc. which are not yet considered for installation of smoke detectors.
- The norms for fire handling are notwell-defined except provision of fire extinguisher, water and sand bucket etc. There are few scenarios which will be difficult to handle, if for some reason, a fire breaks out.
- A railway station having 10-12 platform and fire is reported from say platform number 4-5-6-7. It may not be possible for the fire brigade to reach the tender area under such situation. In case a fire policy is there, it is possible to modify the coach watering hydrant for this purpose.
- A fire incident on a train, in a section which is not approachable by road can only be handled by the fire extinguisher about 10 nos. available on the train which generally are not enough . With fire not extinguished, the only option remaining is to watch the fire till such time all its content is burnt. There are options to consider such as (a) attach a water tank with necessary equipment as part of the composition of accident relieve train. (b) Every self-propelled tower wagon shall be equipped with clean agent gas cylinders. The tower wagon can be rushed to accident site much quicker and clean agent fire extinguishing will be of great help for handling mid-level fires.
All this can only be possible, if there is a fire policy and someone taking up the challenge.
It is not too late for IR to prepare its Fire policy covering all aspects of prevention, detection and extinguishing with clear defined roles of each department and the agency for co-ordination.
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