It is the city’s tallest building having many high-end shops drawing scores of visitors. Being a skyscraper, Public Utility Building is also vulnerable to accidents.
For long, the structure was under scrutiny for violations of building norms and safety, following the fire in Carlton Towers in February this year.
The biggest weakness of this landmark building is lack of fire escape. Most of the visitors and employees of various offices of the building are heavily depended on the lift system. In case of a fire, the first thing that will draw their attention is the staircase. In this building, the stair is wide enough only to accommodate one person at the time. Considering the number of visitors and employees working in the building, it would not be wrong to say that a disaster is waiting to happen here.
To give credence to this is a study by Beyond Carlton, an association formed by the survivors and families of those who lost their lives in the fire. As part of an initiative, the group conducted a fire safety audit the findings of which were quite shocking.
“One of the structures in the city where we did a reality check was the Public Utility Building. We found that in most of the stores, there were no smoke detectors or water sprinklers, especially near the emergency exits. These were just a few of the violations that we found,” said Nithin Dubey, a member of Beyond Carlton.
But the government and fire department officials claimed that the required measures had been taken to make the building safer. BG Changappa, director of Karnataka Fire and Emergencies Services, said that based on a request by the department, a wider fire exit staircase was constructed in the building.
“We have a special unit of firemen headed by an assistant fire officer in the building who will be monitoring the building round the clock,” he said.
When DNA visited the building, we found that the 1.5m wide staircase, which was newly constructed to address the safety issues, was no better.
If a blaze starts on one of the floors, what immediately catches the attention of escapees will be the narrow staircase. Any person working or visiting the building would use this stair as it is located close to the elevator they come in. But as people make a desperate run down the stairs, chances of stampede cannot be ruled out.
The new staircase is wider but few visitors seem to be aware of it. Even if some people manage to find it and start rushing down the stairs, their progress will be stopped on the second floor. For here, the staircase ends and people will have to run around to see where the stair continues to the first floor and ground floor. Too much smoke on this floor may leave an escapee confused and the delay in locating the stair may cost his life.
No fire drills were conducted recently in the building. The reason given is that companies working in the building have no time to join this exercise.
There are no fire alarms, smoke detectors or sprinklers in the main corridors of the building. Among the few exemptions is the railway reservation centre on the eighth floor. To our dismay, we also found electric wires hanging from the ceiling, broken and exposed fire alarms and CCTV cameras covered with cobwebs.
However, fire extinguishers and hoses were kept intact.
Extinguishers on all the floors have been renewed.