Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

1A Camac Court, 25B Camac Street, Kolkata – 700 016, India.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cigarette butts - deadlier than the terrorists

This week, while in office, I got a call from my home informing me that a fire broke out on the window shades of first floor of our building but the situation was brought under control by the chauffeurs, guards and others who succeeded in dousing it.
Later, I came to know that the fire was the handiwork of someone who had casually flicked a burning cigarette butt from one of the windows above. The smouldering butt fell and ignited a rubber pipe in which live electric wires were encased. This causing a short circuit and the fire.
It could not be ascertained who was behind the discarded cigarette butt, but it left no room for doubt that it was some visitor in the building. Smoking is hazardous in more ways than one and often to others.
My house on Little Russell Street is in an old building. It has a wooden staircase like any other old buildings in the city. These buildings are a veritable tinderbox, a powder keg, that any discarded cigarette butt can cause a conflagration.
After the Stephen Court fire incident, I wrote a strong letter to the co-owners of our building which yielded some results. The messy wires were put in order, but other than mine, no other apartment has fire extinguishers or fire-fighting equipment till date.
The law has banned smoking in public places, but we actually see people not only smoking in public but also casually tossing burning cigarette butts in jammed trash chutes and elsewhere. Disastrous fire incidents like the Nandaram Market, Stephen Court, AMRI and so many other such incidents in the city has hardly had any impact. The general level of awareness regarding fire safety is abysmally low. I shudder to think how many more fires and lives will it take for Kolkatans to draw some serious lessons and act.
Given the city's track record, Kolkatans should be more aware, alert and cautious regarding fire safety. More so, since we live in a city that has so many old buildings with narrow lanes and approach roads. The electrical wirings in these building make a perfect set up for a horror movie.
As far as the public is concerned, the government and its fire department is always the favourite whipping boy. Why can't we the citizens of Kolkata take few small steps in adopting fire safety measures like putting fire-fighting equipment and ensuring that functional fire exits are in place. My building doesn't have one and I am fighting for it. My gut feeling is that I have a long battle ahead.
Not just visitors, the hosts are also responsible for fatal fire incidents. If you invite someone to your house, how they conduct themselves, is your responsibility.
The world over, if one goes by the discarded cigarette butts' potential to cause damage to life and property, it is more dangerous than terror attacks.
So not just health, our government should strictly enforce that all cigarettes are “fire safe” (go out more quickly if left unattended) or Fire Standards Compliant (FSC), as in the United States.
But all these measures would have little impact as long as the general awareness on fire safety remains low. When will we ever learn!
ess bee

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