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FIRE ON 13TH FLOOR IN EASTERN RAILWAY OFFICES – SAFETY MISMANAGEMENT STARK AND TRAGIC

When firefighters reached the building where a fire was raging on the 13th floor in Kolkata, the first thing they needed was a map of the building but it was not available and sprinklers were not functioning and the fire raged merrily on.  A short circuit was cited as the trigger that engulfed the 13th floor that housed the offices of the Eastern Railway. The incident took place roughly around 6.30 pm in the evening of 8th March after a blaze broke out on the 13th floor of the 14-storied New Koilaghat building on Strand Road.

Seven people were killed on Monday, while two more bodies were recovered from the building on Tuesday morning, according to The Hindu. A fireman speaking to reporters after the ghastly flames had consumed 9 lives, said that they had to reach the fire on priority from the inside so a team of firemen entered the lift. But instead of pressing the 11th floor button as intended, someone pressed the 13th floor button. This was the last mistake for him and all in the lift who died.

The deceased included four firefighters and a police officer. Four of the nine victims were identified as fire officials Girish Dey, Gaurav Bej, Aniruddha Jana and Biman Purakait, while one of the victims was Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police Amit Bhawal. Three railway officials – Deputy Chief Commercial Manager of Eastern Railway Partha Pratim Mondal, Security Officer Sanjay Sahani and railway employee Utpal Acharya – were also among those who died in the fire, The Hindu reported.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also visited the spot, announced a Rs 10-lakh compensation and a government job for the families of the deceased, PTI reported. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed grief at the accident and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for each of the families of those killed.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said that “all possible assistance has been provided by the Railways to the State government” during this unfortunate fire accident. “A high-level inquiry consisting of four principal heads of Railway departments has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the fire,” Mr. Goyal said on social media.

While the fire was brought under control in a few hours, causalities were reported when fire brigade and security personnel entered the building to rescue those trapped. While seven bodies were recovered from one lift, two other persons were found dead in another lift. According to reports, security personnel and firefighters took a lift to the 13th floor and could not escape the smoke and fire after stepping out of the lift.

“The fire occurred at 6.10 p.m. at New Koilaghat building and by 6.30 p.m. the fire brigade was present at the spot. The blaze is under control,” Kamal Devdas, chief public relations officer of Eastern Railway, said. He said that the ticketing system of Eastern Railway has been affected by the fire as the main server of Eastern Railway was housed in the affected building.

The incident brought back memories of devastating fires that the metropolis had witnessed in the past few years, including fire at Stephen Court on Park Street in March 2010 where about 43 people died, and fire at AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria in December 2011 which claimed more than 90 lives.