Fire at Stephen Court, Kolkata

Again. And Again.

It’s a tragedy. Lives are lost, as is property, as are landmarks and history. But does anyone care [1,2]?

This is very similar to the annual rainy season in Kolkata, where any significant rain leads to water logging, and pollution of the standard sources of drinking water (the drains overflow and mix). And every year, we get two statements from the Municipal Corporation [Rains 2007, Rains 2008]:

1. Things like this happen when there is major rain.

2. Next year will be better.

And yet we have not learnt, we have not implemented, we have not prepared.

It is identical in the case of these fires. For this latest fire at Stephen Court, the Minister of Fire and Emergency Services went so far as to say:

“It takes one hour to cover a 15 km journey, that is why the delay took place in the fire tenders reaching there.”

And that is a valid excuse, one that can be accepted? 15 km a fire truck has to travel, to reach a locality that is as busy as it is crowded, when there is a major fire?

And how are the buildings themselves equipped to handle a fire emergency? Evacuation routes and procedures? Emergency protocols? Fire extinguishers in the buildings? Fire codes, and they being adhered to? Does it help to have a wad of currency notes ready if a building does not adhere to protocols? Does the Minister of Fire and Emergency Services get asked questions about these?

And then we have the babus being more concerned about forms in triplicate and their chairs being oiled enough, than doing actual work. 4 days into the Burrabazar fire, The Telegraph had this to say (link at the beginning of this post):

Army officers said they were allowed their own source of water only this afternoon after over two days of non-cooperation by fire officials.

I am certain the Stephen House fire will have a similar handling. Excuses, reasons, a few arrests now that it will be shown that fire codes were not adhered to, and life will be back to normal. Until the next fire, when the cycle will run again.

It is our lives that are in danger, our buildings, our history, and our city. As much as it is the government’s responsibility, it is also our own, to make sure that everything is in order. The government itself is not forced down our throats; it is an elected government that we brought (and kept) to power.

We are great at making excuses, we at great at pointing fingers; we are terrible at doing anything about it.

More fun quotes from the Fire Minister (link at beginning of post):

“… From this incident, I have learnt a lesson: ladders should be kept in and around Esplanade to speed up the process of firefighting,”

The minister flaunted another lesson: carpets cannot save people forced to jump from highrises. So, the government is “planning” to purchase nets. “Right now, we have carpets but those cannot save a man from getting injuries,” he said.

Amazing, the amount he has learnt from just one incident, no?

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