M A I N   N E W S

Gorton Castle fire
Probe indicts AG security branch
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, March 2
The magisterial probe into the blaze at the 109-year-old Gorton Castle heritage building, housing the state Accountant General’s office, has indicted the AG’s security branch headed by a class-III officer Rakhpal Singh, the defunct internal hydrant and fire-alarm systems.

The top two floors of the castle were destroyed in a fire during the wee hours of January 28. The 36-page probe report has exposed a sorry state of fire-safety preparedness in all heritage buildings in the city as neither does the staff know how to handle a fire emergency nor does the fire alarm system work to nip the fire in the bud.

According to the probe report accessed by The Tribune, the fire audit and inspections in heritage buildings are nothing more than rituals performed on papers just to keep records. In case of Gorton Castle, the fire -- caused possibly by a short circuit -- began at room number 123, 124 near the conference hall on the third floor, states the forensic science laboratory report that was quoted by the inquiry officer, ADM (Law and Order) DK Rattan.

The AG office claimed that two watchmen were deployed inside the building while a security guard was outside the building at the time of the fire on January 28, but none of them could detect the fire. A taxi driver from the bus stand was the first to detect it and he was the one who informed the police.

The police and fire brigade found the gates locked and parked vehicles blocked the passage of the fire engine to the castle.

The fire alarms did not work and the disaster management group was not trained. The team members did not know what role they were to play during a fire emergency, revealed the inquiry.

The fire hydrants were defunct. Some of them were buried under tiles and precious time was lost in locating them.

Most of the responsibility to check the fire system is assigned to the multi-purpose staff and no one knows what one has to do in case of an emergency, revealed the inquiry. The fire audits done by the Home Department end up being mere rituals. “In the wake of the Gorton Castle fire, we conducted some fire safety drills. But the staff, chowkidars and security guards do not how to operate the fire extinguishers,” admitted an official in the Deputy Commissioner Office, another heritage building.

The plight of 53 other heritage buildings including CTO, secretariat building, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, state library, town hall, GPO building and others located in the core heritage zone was no better, admitted officials.

All-round failure

  • Staff on duty didn’t detect the fire; were not trained to handle a fire emergency
  • The internal hydrant and fire-alarm systems were defunct
  • Some hydrants were buried under tiles and precious time was lost in locating those
  • The fire brigade’s passage to the building was blocked by parked vehicles
  • The gates of the building were locked






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