Not another Towering Inferno

Cinema theatres in the city do not have adequate fire safety measures. In case of a fire, these buildings are not equipped to effectively deal with them, finds Ayesha Aleem

Fire broke out in Uphaar Cinema in New Delhi on 13 June 1997, while screening a matinee show of the movie, Border. 59 movie goers lost their lives because the theatre didn’t have adequate fire escape facilities. Ten years later, memories of that day still haunt the survivors.

Fire SafetyChief Fire Officer and Senior Supervising Officer, Bangalore, N U Erappa says cinemas are supposed to provide four and a half metres of space around the building so that in case of fire, fire trucks would be able to enter the premises and put it out. In many theatres, this area is generally used for parking vehicles. Erappa points out cinemas can provide parking space only if there is at least nine metres of space, with half the width reserved for parking and the rest empty for an emergency. Erappa added that violations are seen because most of these buildings were old constructions and erected before the formulation of the existent BBMP building bye laws, which presently lay down fire regulatory guidelines. (The bye-laws are available online in the BBMP website. See Table 16(21.9))

When asked how the fire department intended to address the issue of violations, he explained that the District Magistrate in consultation with the Police Commissioner and civic agencies such as the BBMP, BESCOM etc. issue licenses to cinemas. These can either be permanent licenses of up to three years or temporary licenses of one year. Erappa says that when their licenses lapse, there would be a review before issuing them fresh licenses.

Vaibhav theatre in Sanjaynagar can seat 935 people – 513 on the ground floor that has five exits and 422 in the balcony with two exits. Ground floor doors open into the lobby from where the main exit leads out of the building. The balcony doors open into the upper floor of the building. Cinema users on this floor have to use the one staircase to get to the lower floor from where the main exit takes them outside. This means that there is only one common point of exit for people on both floors. Poonacha M, Manager of the cinema said that the fire safety measures in the cinema included two to four buckets of sand and three to four fire extinguishers. However, he was not aware of the kind of extinguisher in place. There are four types of fires, each of which is to be dealt with a specific kind of extinguisher, as stated by the fire department.

Poonacha added that the theatre also had water supplied by the corporation and a borewell. A tanker would be called in if the need arose.

N.U.Erappa – Chief Fire Officer and Senior Supervising Officer, West Division
Ph: 080-22971523, 9448066101

Krishniah, Magisterial Manager, Ph: 080-22211292

Administration Manager of Rex cinema on Brigade Road, who refused to reveal his name, said that the theatre had fire extinguishers and buckets with sand, although he did not state how many of each. When asked why the building had no space running right around it, he said that it was an old construction and stated the same reason for the building not having at least one staircase leading outdoors from the top story. He said that the balcony of the cinema had two exits and one emergency exit located at the rear while the ground floor had a total of four exits.

However, the scene at PVR, Bangalore, a multiplex in the city housed in the Forum Mall, Koramangala, is slightly more encouraging. Rajesh S., Security Manager for PVR, South India, explains the safety measures at PVR theatres, Forum Mall, "We have a special emergency response team called ‘HEAT’ which is concerned with dealing with fire emergencies. Team members are trained and certified to handle different kinds of emergencies. Our regular staff is also periodically trained on how to deal with emergencies."

In addition, other fire safety measure in place include ‘physical frisking’ when patrons enter the theatre, primarily for cigarettes and matchboxes. This is apparently more effective than the HHMD (Hand Held Metal Detector) which cannot pick up the presence of cigarettes and matchboxes. Cigarettes, lighters and matchboxes belonging to customers are collected and deposited with security and returned at the end of a show.

Fire SafetyApart from this, they have standard smoke detectors and the more sensitive beam detectors. This equipment is functional 24×7 and monitored at a control unit. The 11 auditoriums also have emergency exits, the number of which varies according to their size, as per Bangalore Building Bye Laws.

Each auditorium is fitted with four water extinguishers and four carbon dioxide extinguishers, which are in easy access and can be used by anyone by following the simple instructions provided. They also have a sprinkler system, 20 sand buckets each and a fire axe. PVR cinemas also have hydrant points in the cinemas to which hose reels can be connected. These are also provided on the premises. A special generator is also in place that can pump water from a separate tank in case the main power supply needs to be shut down on account of a fire caused by electricity. Adds Rajesh, "And we have stretchers, wheelchairs and first aid boxes."

Rajesh was aware of the different kinds of fires and the corresponding types of fire extinguishers. These extensive preventive measures can be possibly attributed to their recent inception and a growing awareness of fire safety among the public. PVR Cinemas at Forum Mall, Bangalore has not recorded any major fire disaster to date.

The official in charge of fire safety measures in cinemas, Mr. Krishniah, Magisterial Manager in the District Magistrate’s office was unavailable for comment.


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