Thursday, February 22, 2024

Still playing with fire

In recent months, Nagaland has reported multiple fire accidents at an alarming frequency. The thing here is that it’s usually the dry and windy months in Nagaland which are associated with fears and apprehensions concerning fire hazards ~ thus caution and care too. These are the months in the villages when each and every household is mandated to store water in bamboo jars/containers ~ exclusively for the purpose of fire accidents in the village. This is not a new practice but one that has been followed with almost-military deference from ages past. So the destructive connection between fire hazards and dry, windy months is not an unknown natural phenomenon to the Nagas. But presently, we are still crawling out of winter (in fact, it feels like deep winter has set in now only). And the onset of winter also means a spike in the risk of home fire incidents with increased usage of electric heaters and coal to warm home interiors. After the season of home fires, comes the season of wildfires ~ when forests across the State become sites of devastating inferno. And despite cautions and advisories, fire tragedies still occur. More often than not, our heavily under-equipped and under-resourced Department of Fire and Emergency Services finds itself at the receiving end of public fury. Some are justified, some might not be; but that comes with the territory. Almost all the Fire Stations across Nagaland are not equipped with sufficient fire engines ~ and even the ones with such engines do not have the required human and financial resources to utilise them. A fire engine comes with significant operational cost. Tall proclamations notwithstanding, Nagaland Government has kept the Fire Department under-resourced and adopted an indifference towards this fundamental necessity of keeping sufficiently trained fire-fighting personnel. Every rupee that goes into securing people’s lives and livelihoods is a worthy investment. It is, therefore, not only a problem of the Fire Department alone; it is a general lack of attention by the Government that perpetuates the problem. A general lack of sensitivity among the public about the need to take extreme precautions to prevent fire incidents is not helping either. A majority of the time, fire incidents happen due to immediate human actions, such as negligent use of fire. This goes on to show that we can prevent most of the fire accidents by taking proper precautions. Whether in market places or residential areas, fire eruption causes both financial and human losses. Over the years, despite the alarming frequency of fire incidents in the State, the authorities have yet to devise a comprehensive mechanism to reduce such incidents. Fire safety is nowhere in sight, even on paper. The result is a failure of the municipal as well as district administrations to prevent the ignition of an uncontrolled fire or limit the effects of a fire. In most of the official versions, electrical short circuit is the most common cause of accidental fires ~ this is a trend that has continued for years. But the authorities still do not implement building safety rules. Officers should frequently conduct inspections at shops selling combustible materials to ensure that all fire extinguishing systems are fully operational. Needless to say, the Nagaland Fire and Emergency Services should not limit its role to one that extinguishes fire when it breaks out. It has to focus more on spreading awareness about fire safety. The spate of fire tragedies in the recent months are grim reminders of Nagaland Government’s continuing failure to pay any attention towards implementing safety rules. For years now, unproductive policies and the Government’s lack of attention towards key problems have kept our State in a perpetual free fall. Fire safety is one of these issues. To avoid such incidents in the future, the State Government must establish a team to ensure that safety rules are implemented by the owners of residential and commercial buildings ~ at least in the municipal areas. Those who are violating the rules must be fined and punished. At the same time, the authorities must reform and update the Fire and Emergency Services Department.