The loss of my son in the Carlton Towers incident in Bengaluru on February 23, 2010 led me to set up a citizen-led think tank on fire safety called, Beyond Carlton. The thought was to move beyond the accident and make an attempt to highlight the importance of fire safety among the various stakeholders. Looking back, I never imagined I would spend close to 10 years around fire safety issues that I knew little about then.
At Beyond Carlton, year on year, we await the only published fire statistics by the National Crime Records Beaurau (NCRB), Govt of India. The much-awaited Accidental and Death Statistics India (ADSI) 2018 report was released by NCRB recently.
Among many things, the report forms the basis for us to know how safe we are with regard to fire safety in India. The report gives us an understanding of the total accidental fire deaths, state-wise data, places of fire accidents for instance, commercial, residential buildings, etc. This report also helps us to know which states are vulnerable, which environments are seeing most fatalities, what demographics are suffering most and so on. This should help all those involved in urban development and safety to look at ways to improve fire safety in the nation.
But like the rest of the world, any reporting on accidents is most often an underestimation either because of poor reporting or concealment of data.
So, what does the latest NCRB 2018 report say?
Did you know, over the last four years, we have lost 60,507 lives due to fire (2015-2018)?
In 2018, a total of 13,099 cases of fire accidents were reported in the country, showing a marginal decrease of 2.2% during 2018 over 2017 (13,397 cases). Is the decrease because of under-reporting or are we seeing a shift in the number of fatalities from fire accidents?
As many as 12,748 people died in 2018, which means that around 35 Indians die in a fire every day.
As many as 4,290 fire-related deaths were in the 18-30 age group, followed by 3,860 in the 30-45 age group. These vulnerable age groups together account for 63% of all fire-related deaths.
More Women Die in a Fire
Out of 12,748 fire deaths in 2018, 7,244 were women while 5,503 men lost their lives in a fire.
5 States Account for 55% of the Fire Accidents
Fire accidents in Madhya Pradesh (1,986 fire deaths), Maharashtra (1,896), Gujarat (1,194), Chhattisgarh (976) and Odisha (897) account for 55% of the total fire accidents. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra account for 30% of the accidents making it the tinderboxes of India – 3,882 fire deaths, two states put together.
More People Die in Home/Residential Fires
Around 56% of the deaths were because of home fires. The total number of fire accidents reported in residences were 7,208, which is 56 per cent of the total fire accidents.
Cooking Gas Blasts Emerged as the Biggest Killer
As many as 2,672 people, of which 1967 were women, were killed in cooking gas explosions. This makes it the largest cause of fire-related deaths. Although there is a small drop in cases due to cooking gas reported in 2018 (2,670) vs 2017 (3,260). Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra were the most prone to these deaths.
It all seems to add up, the large number of women dying in fires, residential fires being the largest location for fatalities and cooking gas deaths all seem to add up. This clearly tells us our homes are not really safe and need urgent attention and focus.
Electrical Short-Circuits Caused 1,368 Men Dying
A total of 1,970 fire accidents were caused by electrical short-circuit of which 1,368 were men. Maharashtra, West Bengal and Karnataka were the states with the most deaths.
What Does This all Mean?
- If the reporting of data is accurate, there is a decrease in fire accidents compared to previous years. Does it indicate that we are slowly moving towards reducing the fire accidents or is it poor reporting? We would watch the reports for the next couple of years to make this assumption.
- Our fire safety laws are archaic and our fire departments are not well-equipped to handle the modern high rise buildings. We have sub-optimal fire infrastructure, fewer fire stations, poorly trained staff and low budgetary grants.
- Our homes are also increasingly becoming unsafe as they pose a huge fire threat because we have so many inflammable items-upholstery, decorative material, electrical gadgets, LPG connections. Most of the residential fires are caused by cooking fires and electrical short-circuit.
- We need mass awareness programs, especially at homes.
- We need to ensure all mandatory implementation of existing fire safety guidelines. We need to ensure all laws are followed with no exceptions and with strict deterrents.
As we move towards rapid urbanisation and development, our governments should be more pro-active in implementing fire safety laws and creating awareness. I propose a national fire safety law with strict deterrents on the lines of the Road Safety Act announced recently. Let’s not allow state governments to dilute them. Ask a family who lost someone in an accident and they will always support strict measures rather than populistic softening of public safety laws.
Till then, we will continue to hear daily of fire deaths and we will remain apathetic to fire accidents unless it happens to one.
Do remember: Fire kills. Let’s prevent it.
(Uday Vijayan is a guest writer and citizen campaigner on fire safety. He launched 'Beyond Carlton,' a campaign on fire safety, after losing his 23-year-old son Akhil in the Carlton Towers fire in Bengaluru. February 23 this year marks 10 years since the tragedy. Views are personal)