A Called Upon Catastrophe? : Fire In Purchase And Works

A Called Upon Catastrophe? : Fire In Purchase And Works

Maneesh Rout | Jan 07, 2019

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NITR woke to the news of a cataclysmic fire burning down the property of the Purchase and Works department on a Wednesday morning, 5th December 2018. While it was dubbed no short of alarming that it was the second instance of fire in the campus within 6 months, questions are being raised over the fire and general safety of the campus.

One could see that the department was blackened with soot from the floor until the ceiling and the property like computers and official documents have been reduced to ashes. The matter is currently being investigated by the officials of the Odisha Government and the area was guarded and put off-limits to the general public.

The official statement released by the public relations office had the following to say over the incident.

“A fire broke at the purchase and works department of National Institute of Technology, Rourkela around 2.30 am on Wednesday. Immediately after the incident, we called the fire department. The flames were brought under control and fire was doused in a couple of minutes. Nobody was injured in the blaze, however, some files, computers have been damaged. Now the situation is completely under control. We have taken adequate steps to maintain fire safety. An FIR has been lodged in the sector-3 police station. Police are investigating into the matter. The reasons for the fire are unknown. We have constituted an investigating committee that will submit a report soon.”

The Assistant Registrar of the Purchase and Works section was unavailable for a statement till the report of the fact-finding committee was submitted.

No casualties have been reported but the incident has left many wondering the causes of the fire and how it spread. Upon analyzing the possibility of an electrical fault which might have caused the fire, Monday morning had a candid chat with the executive engineer of the estate (electrical), Mr. Rajesh Kumar Sahoo. The following is an excerpt of the conversation.

I was called at 2:40 AM by the Director informing me of the fire. I rushed to purchase and works department to check if any of the electrical systems had failed and to secure the region. The first impulse was to isolate the section from the rest of the building’s electrical network. After the fire brigade had doused the fire, our team examined for electrical faults despite being very sure of the insulation being foolproof. I take this opportunity to inform you that the entire institute has closed wiring with the highest grade insulation available in the market i.e. In addition, there is no high voltage consuming equipment in the purchase and works department that can possibly overload the electrical network to give rise to a short circuit. Hence both the possibility of a short circuit by either an overload or unprotected wiring does not arise. In fact, in the current system, as soon as there is a fire in a room and the insulation is affected by it, it melts and trips the entire electrical network within a very short response time. This is what happened in this case as well and the entire main building’s system had tripped. Thus the damage that the fire caused and continued to do so until the brigade arrived could have had no relation to an electrical fault. In my opinion, the fire was caused completely by another medium which may be unintentional or intentional as well. The fire department of the Odisha Government is investigating it and we hope to find the real cause of the fire soon.“

While the possibility of an electrical fault has been completely eliminated, the causes could be an unintentional or intentional fire by some other agent. This raises concerns about the general security of important administrative zones which handles the workings of an Institute of National Importance.

Monday Morning reached out to the Chairman of the fact-finding committee, Prof Bidyadhar Subudhi about the circumstances which could have led to a security breach that led to such a massive loss.

The fact-finding committee was constituted to delve over the ways the institute can prevent such catastrophic losses in the future. There were consultations and meetings held and thought the exact cause of the fire would be disclosed by the police, we delved upon the reasons to understand the scenario to take prevention steps. We analyzed the events chronologically which can be summed up as follows:

10:30 PM: Some students smell smoke near the senate room. Due to closed chambers, they could not see any plumes and find the source of the fire.

2 AM: The students alight the stairs and pass near the TEQUIP office and accounts section and find unusual warmth emanating from the Deputy Registrar’s office. They observed the fire in the Purchase and Works was on fire. They inform the Chief Security officer and the officers on duty. The fire brigade is called.

2:15 AM: The fire is doused by the brigade but the room is already burnt beyond repair.

The fact-finding committee was constituted in the morning of 5th December and upon examination of the area, it could be observed that several systems had burned down. While the exact cause cannot be narrowed upon till the police submit a more detailed forensic report, we suspect a malfunction of the computer hardware to be the cause of the fire. 

The following are the security protocols that have been laid down by the committee post the incident that will be proposed to the Director and Deans to ensure the posterity of life and property in this Institute :

1. The employees, faculty, and students would necessarily have to ensure that all electrical is switched off and is kept in a state as mandated by the safety protocols. Documents should not be kept over any electrical equipment or in the vicinity of it.

2. The Security officers of the institute will be given basic firefighting training.

3. Smoke and fire detectors with alarms sensitive to the intensity of the fire will be installed in strategic locations across the entire institute.

4. There will be a yearly inspection of all the equipment in the institute with a safety rating given to each of them. The estate will have to monitor the fluctuations in the voltage supply and the wirings on a periodical basis as well.

5. There will be signage guiding one to the MCBs connected to the respective loads. This will help the first respondents of such incidents in the past to switch of the MCB with minimum response time.

It was a consensus that these incidents can be prevented and the damage curtailed with much more efficient if the preventive measures are in place.

While an official release of the cause is yet to be ascertained, it is hoped that each one associated with NITR takes a concious step towards prevention of such calamities.

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