The Fire Safety challenge is not new for the electrical industry in India. The industry has suffered setbacks in several instances due to it, however, the concern cannot be ignored or denied existence anymore. The industry needs to address it immediately and take action to address the factors behind it – an unorganized market, low-quality products, and lack of public awareness.
Uphar Fire Tragedy, 1997, New Delhi, left in its wake over 150 people dead, the AMRI Fire Tragedy of Kolkata in 2011 claimed over 90 human lives, including the hospital staff, and the Kumbakonam School Fire of 2004, Tamil Nadu, ended up in the loss of 94 minors. There were certain common factors among all these incidents:
- The cause of ultimate death was not the fire, but the poisonous smoke.
- The premises on fire were violating at least a few of the building codes of India.
- The lack of fire-fighting equipment and primary awareness.
- The lack of disaster management practices.
While it is now 2023, and years have passed since a tragedy of similar seriousness has shocked Indians, the country cannot ignore any of the above factors. The reason is their persistence at every corner and street of the country.
Fire safety is a looming challenge for the Indian electrical industry, especially as the country is looking forward to doubling its power capacity from 410 GW to 800 GW by 2030. The target is not only to meet the current power demand but to expand it. As India moves to make electricity available nationwide round-the-clock, the electrical wires and cables network is going to expand and intensify.
Furthermore, electricity transmission is not the only application of wires and cables, the web becomes dense. While electrical fires or fires might not be entirely avoidable, there are concrete steps that can be taken to ensure the safety of collateral lives during the incident.
As mentioned, the reason for the loss of lives in each of the incidents was the asphyxiation due to poisonous smoke and not the fire itself. The congested enclosures ensured that people cannot escape in time to avoid the lasting effects of the smoke. Hence, many who managed to escape the premises still gave in to death. But how will we control the smoke?
When wires, which are not up to industrial standards, catch fire, their plastic coating melts to release a poisonous black gas, which results in vision block as well as eventual asphyxiation of those who inhale it. According to industrial standards, wires with smoke transparency of 40-60 percent need to be used in residential and commercial buildings. However, the lack of awareness disregards these guidelines.
RR Kabel Limited conducted a press conference in The Park Hotel, New Delhi, on February 22, 2023, to address the situation on behalf of the industry. The conference was headed by Shreegopal Kabra, Managing Director of RR Kabel, and Mr. S. Gopa Kumar, President of the National Federation of Engineers for Electrical Safety.
Shreegopal Kabra has been on the front foot of the fire safety discussion. He has determinedly rehashed the argument for better manufacturing practices, quality products, and awareness of fire safety measures among the general public. At the conference as well he shared that FRLS and FR wire usage needs to increase in the country.
Lamenting the blatant disregard of smoke density-related guidelines by the building owners, he insisted on a drive for creating awareness among the general public, so that they can consciously choose their safety in wake of capitalization.
Mr. Gopa Kumar highlighted the state of the ground-level situation in India, wherein many China-imported appliances are present with two-pin plugs, which is not standardized for usage in India. He further addressed the lack of follow-up of legislation, which is immaculately designed and passed in the parliament after years of multi-level discussions. The building owners tend to disregard laws and regulations in favor of commercial opportunities leading to congested buildings and enclosures, illegally encroaching on various resources of the country.
RR Kabel presented a live demonstration of their FR wire, which releases less smoke and has 60-90 percent of transparency. The smoke, therefore, will not blind the people to die of collateral causes like stampedes, and the reduced monoxide content will also help in lesser deaths due to asphyxiation.