Fire Safety Measures in Schools as Mandated by the Supreme Court

In 2004, a School in Kumbakonam, a town in Tamil Nadu, caught fire resulting in the tragic deaths of 94 children, and the severe injury of many others. It was alleged that the high death toll caused due to the fire, which started in the kitchen, was mainly due to the complete disregard of Building Laws and Fire Safety Regulations, as well as the flouting of rules regarding safety of school children.

In response to this tragedy, a case was filed in the Supreme Court petitioning for the framing and enforcement of stringent rules and regulations to ensure the safety of school going children.

The following are some extracts from the order passed in the Supreme Court by Justice. Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta, dated April 13, 2009.

 

3.1 FIRE SAFETY MEASURES IN SCHOOLS:

i. 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.

ii. First Aid kits and necessary medicines should be readily available in the school.

iii. Provision of water tank and separate piping from the tank with hose reel to the ground floor and first floor.

iv. Firefighting training to all teachers and students from X to XII standards.

v. 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 & Rescue Department member shall monitor and make fire safety plan and conduct inspections once in every three months.

vi. Display of emergency telephone numbers and list of persons to be contacted on the notice board and other prominent places.

vii. 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.

viii. 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.

ix. 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.

x. 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.

 

3.2 TRAINING OF SCHOOL TEACHERS & OTHER STAFF:

i. The teachers along with other staff shall be trained to handle safety equipment, initiate emergency evacuations and protect their students in the event of fire and other emergencies by the Fire and Rescue Department.

ii. They shall also be trained in providing emergency first-aid treatment.

iii. There shall be a School Safety Advisory Committee and an Emergency Response Plan drafted by the Committee in approval and consultation with the concerned Fire & Rescue Department.

iv. Emergency Response Drills conducted at regular intervals to train the students as well as the school staff.

v. All schools to observe Fire Safety Day on 14th of April every year with awareness programs and fire safety drills in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue Department.

 

3.3 SCHOOL BUILDING SPECIFICATIONS:

i. The school buildings shall preferably be a ‘A’ Class construction with brick / stone masonry walls with RCC roofing.  Where it is not possible to provide RCC roofing only non-combustible fireproof heatresistance materials should be used.

ii. The nursery and elementary schools should be housed in single storied buildings and the maximum number of floors in school buildings shall be restricted to three including the ground floor.

iii. The School building shall be free from inflammable and toxic materials, which if necessary, should be stored away from the school building.

iv. The staircases, which act as exits or escape routes, shall adhere to provisions specified in the National Building Code of India 2005 to ensure quick evacuation of children.

v. The orientation of the buildings shall be in such a way that proper air circulation and lighting is available with open space all round the building as far as possible.

vi. Existing school buildings shall be provided with additional doors in the main entrances as well as the class rooms if required.  The size of the main exit and classroom doors shall be enlarged if found inadequate.

vii. School buildings have to be insured against fire and natural calamities with Group Insurance of school pupils.

viii. Kitchen and other activities involving use of fire shall be carried out in a secure and safe location away from the main school building.

ix. All schools shall have water storage tanks.

 

3.4 CLEARANCES & CERTIFICATES:

i. Every School shall have a mandatory fire safety inspection by the Fire and Rescue Services Department followed by issuance of a ‘no objection certificate’ to the School as a mandatory requirement for granting permission for establishing or continuation of a School.

ii. An Inspection Team consisting of experts like a Civil Engineer, a Health Officer, a Revenue Officer, a Psychologist, a Fire Officer, a local body officer and a development officer besides the educational authorities shall carry inspection and assessment of infrastructural facilities before the commencement of each academic year.  The Team shall submit its Inspection Report to the concerned district Chief Educational Officer.

iii. The building plans for schools shall be prepared only by a Government certified engineer and the PWD Executive Engineer concerned should inspect the building and award a structural stability certificate. Stability Certificates shall be issued by the State or Central Government Engineers only and shall be mandatory for granting permission for establishing or continuation of a School.

iv. In every district, one Recognition Committee headed by a retired judge shall be constituted.  Officials from Revenue Department, Public Works Department, Fire Service, Electricity Board, Health and Education Department, a reputed NGO shall be members.  They shall visit the schools periodically or at least the erring institutions as listed by the Chief Education Officer.

v. Conditional recognition / approval shall never by resorted to for any school.

 

36. In this petition, we need not take any action contrary to government policy to fulfil the Constitution’s mandate.  Union and State officials have already filed wide-ranging plans to improve school safety.  Along with the National Building Code, a combination of the better parts of these plans would bring the nation’s schools to an adequate level of safety.  States have also expressed enthusiasm for reform and some have asked this Court expressly for direction.”

 

Click here for the full Judgement.

 

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