With major fire incidents jolting the capital in recent months, citizens and businesspeople are taking initiatives to address fire safety. And while the efforts are visible, they may not be adequate.
At New Market and adjacent shopping centres, the steps taken by shop owners and market authorities are mostly logistical -- setting up of a few fire extinguishers and sand buckets. Not much else was visible during recent visits to New Market, New Super Market (South), Chandrima Super Market, Gausia Market and Chandni Chawk.
Most of the fire extinguishers were installed in March and April, according to the dates inscribed on the cylinders. However, the number of extinguishers appear to be quite low, and most salespersons do not know how to operate those.
In an inspection by this newspaper, around 70 fire extinguishers were found in New Market that has 550 shops, while only 20-odd fire extinguishers were found at New Super Market (South) that houses 1,235 shops.
The five-storey Chandni Chawk has only about 10 fire extinguishers, and some 15 were found at Chandrima Super Market.
Shakil Newaj, director (operations and maintenance) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said all the five markets are under severe fire risk. These have no smoke and heat detector, and do not have sufficient staircases either.
There are no indicators to the staircases in the markets, and customers will have a hard time finding those in the event of a fire, he said.
The markets also do not have necessary water reservoirs or hoses to douse fire, and the authorities did not arrange any fire drills and training for the staff, which are all very necessary, Shakil added.
His concerns were found to be true, as most of the staffers of the markets said they do not even know how to use fire extinguishers or what to do during fire.
Many of them said they know how to operate those, but have no idea how to bring those down from walls during a fire incident.
“I don’t know how to use it. If fire breaks out, I’m not sure what to do with it,” said Md Ashraf, who has been altering jeans trousers for five years at Chandrima Super Market.
Biplob, a tailor shop owner at Gausia Market, said if a fire breaks out in such a big market, it would be difficult to control it.
“The authorities didn’t teach us how to use fire extinguishers. God forbid if a fire breaks out, none of us will be able to use them. It is like having money but you can’t spend it,” he said with a nervous smile.
Monir Hossain, general secretary of Business Forum of Chandni Chawk Super Market, claimed that they have trained 10 security guards, 20 cleaners and 20 staff members of the market on firefighting.
A team of Fire Service and Civil Defence recently visited the market and asked them to comply with all necessary requirements, he said.
Md Muzzammel Hossain Patwary, vice president of New Super Market (South) Banik Samity, claimed that they have a deep tube-well and reservoir for dousing fire. He said they need to renovate electrical lines to reduce fire risk, adding that they are taking initiatives to this end.
Mohammad Firoz, office secretary of New Market Samity, said apart from 70 fire extinguishers installed by them, they have trained 13 security guards. He also claimed that they conducted fire drills in the market.
Manzur Ahmed, president of Chandrima Super Market Dokan Malik Samity, claimed that they have set up 40 fire extinguishers in the market, and asked all shop owners to set up fire extinguishers individually.
There is an acute scarcity of water in and around the market as there is no waterbody in the vicinity, nor are there any water reservoirs, he said.
Wasa should take steps to set up fire hydrants in important points of the city, especially where markets are situated, to help firefighters douse fire quickly, he added.