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Fight fire with fire

Last week my daughter informed me that there was a fire in her school, which was quickly put out. The next day when I asked the principal about it, she flatly denied any such occurrence.

Fight fire with fire

Safety saves: SC guidelines say schools have to provide adequate numbers of ISI-marked fire extinguishers in eye-catching spots in each block photo courtesy: The gurukul



Pushpa Girimaji

Last week my daughter informed me that there was a fire in her school, which was quickly put out. The next day when I asked the principal about it, she flatly denied any such occurrence. I am now worried about the safety of my child and of course, the other children who study in the school. What action can I take to ensure that the school is fire safe?

I wish there were more such parents who bothered about these issues of safety-that would ensure a safer environment for our children. First and foremost, find out whether the school has a fire safety certificate, if not they have to get it immediately and display it in a prominent place.

I must mention here that soon after the devastating fire at the Lord Sri Krishna Middle School in Kumkanonam, Tamil Nadu, a public interest litigation was filed before the Supreme court by Avinash Mehrotra, seeking the highest court’s intervention in ensuring that children studied in schools that were safe and secure in all respects. In response to that, the Supreme Court Bench said it had become imperative that each school follow the bare minimum safety standards, in addition to the compliance of the National Building code of India, 2005, in particular Part IV- Fire &Safety and the Code of Practice of Fire Safety in Educational Institutions (IS14435:1997) of the Bureau of Indian Standards.

So schools have to comply with this. I would suggest that you look up on the net, the judgement of the Supreme Court in Avinash Mehrotra V Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No 483 of 2004, judgement date: April 13, 2009. Armed with that, you can then confront the school and ask them whether they are complying with the Supreme Court’s directive. You can also ask the education department and the fire department whether they are ensuring compliance.

Some of the points enumerated by the apex court:

  • Provision of adequate capacity and numbers of fire extinguishers of ISI marks to be provided in eye-catching spots in each block of the school.  
  • First-aid kits and necessary medicines should be readily available in the school.
  • Provision of water tank and separate piping from the tank with hose reel to the ground floor and first floor.
  • Fire-fighting training to all teachers and students from class X to class XII.
  • Fire task force in every school comprising of head of the institution, two teachers/staff members and one member from the Fire and Rescue Department should be constituted. The Fire and Rescue Department member shall monitor and make fire safety plan and conduct inspections once in every three months.
  • Display of emergency telephone numbers and list of persons to be contacted on the notice board and other prominent places.
  • Mock drills to be conducted regularly; Fire alarm to be provided in each floor and for rural schools separate long bell arrangement in case of emergency.
  • All old electrical wiring and equipment shall be replaced with ISI-mark equipments and routine maintenance conducted by the school management in consultation with the Fire and Rescue Department.
  • No high tension lines should run inside or in close proximity to the school. Steps must be taken to shift them if they are already there.
  • The Fire and Rescue Department shall frame guidelines with “Dos and Don’ts for schools and issue a fitness certificate, which shall be renewed periodically. (You can see the complete list in the judgement). 
  • What the Supreme Court said in this case is highly relevant: “…….educating a child requires more than a teacher and a blackboard, or a classroom and a book. The Right To Education requires that a child study in a quality school, and a quality school certainly should pose no threat to a child’s safety.” 

“Articles 21 and 21 A of the Constitution require that India’s schoolchildren receive education in safe schools. In order to give effect to the provisions of the Constitution, we must ensure that India’s schools adhere to basic safety standards without further delay.”

Whenever I confront the school about some issue, they take my daughter to task. So how do I overcome this problem?

School fire safety is not just your problem, it concerns all parents. So get the parents together and all of you go and meet the principal. Similarly, your complaint to the education department can carry all your signatures. I would also suggest that you form a safety committee in the school to regularly oversee safety. The committee can also ensure that the school renews fire safety certificate regularly.

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