Causes of Fire Emergencies managed by Rescue 1122 in Punjab, Pakistan

Published:  31 May, 2011

This retrospective study has investigated the leading causes of fire emergencies in twelve major cities of Punjab, Pakistan, managed by Rescue 1122 between 2007 to June 2010.

Short Circuiting 50%, Careless Smoking 10%, Gas Leakage 5%, Candle/Heater 2%, Forest Fires 1%, Fire Works 1%, LPG/Cylinder Blast 0.82%, Kitchen Fire 0.18%, Unknown 25% and others 5% respectively found to be the leading causes of the reported fire incidents.

By following the fire safety standards, strict law enforcement, community awareness programme and mass media campaign could play an effective role in reducing fire emergencies.  

INTRODUCTION

Fire has a significant role in the society from the viewpoint of human safety and economics. Personal safety is an issue people are seldom willing to compromise over, because the possible loss is immeasurable. Fires also have considerable economic effects; in addition to the direct damage due to the fire, the preventive measures and rescue service investments are expensive and unavoidable in promoting fire safety [1].

Fires cause 1% of the global burden of disease and 300,000 deaths per year [2]. Fire disasters continue to occur around the world, destroying cities, families, workplaces, workers and wild-lands [3, 4, 5]. Total fire costs are about 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United Kingdom, Japan, and some other countries with available statistics [6]. United States fire tolls include about 5,000 deaths, 54,000 hospitalizations, 1.4 million injuries, two million fires and 1–2% of GDP, perhaps it costs over $110 billion/year [7, 8, 9]. Young children (ages <10 years) accesses to cigarette lighters and matches in the United States causes about 100,000 fires, 300–400 child deaths, and 11% of all injuries in reported fires annually [9-13].

As far as the fire service in Pakistan is concerned, it has been long neglected under the municipalities, glaring examples of which are that there was no fire law in the country, there was a fire service law of 1949 for the West Punjab, which was abolished by the basic democracy ordinances and the subsequent local government ordinances have reduced it to a few words [14].

The fire service in Pakistan was at the most dismal state with the exception of fire service in major cities. The most deficient part was the training aspect. The training was imparted by the federal Civil Defense training schools with instructors who have never been in the field and have no relation with fire departments. Apart from these schools, there is National Institute of Fire Technology, which comes under the federal directorate of Civil Defense and runs obsolete courses for the officers. It has hardly any modern equipment, and knowledge is mainly delivered about useless and outdated equipments [14].

The Government of the Punjab launched an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Rescue 1122 in 2004, from Lahore as a pilot project. Due to the exemplary performance (according to the third party evaluation) of this EMS system in terms of training, quality, care, response and professionalism, this service was not only extended to all 35 districts of the Punjab, but also the challenge of establishing the modern fire service was given to the management of Rescue 1122.

The first professionally trained and modern fire service was finally launched from Lahore on 5th June 2007. On the basis of performance of Rescue 1122, the local governments of Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Sialkot and Murree have voluntarily handed over the control of local government fire brigade to Rescue 1122, and a similar response has been received from other districts.

As the mission of the service is to build the safer communities, so after the establishment an organized emergency system, Rescue 1122 also launched Community Awareness Programme in all districts of the Punjab, to educate the common citizens regarding fire safety, First aid training and basic life support skills. The Punjab Emergency Council and District Emergency Board have also been constituted to ensure effective management and prevention of emergencies and to recommend measures for mitigation of hazards endangering public safety.

In Pakistan there is scarcity of data and original research on fire safety and this has long been a neglected area, therefore this study is a first step to bridge this gap and it would open many folds for future studies.

Objectives of the study

To investigate the leading causes of fire emergencies in twelve major cities of Punjab, Pakistan, managed by Rescue 1122 between 2007 to June 2010.

Material and Methods

This retrospective cohort study was conducted in Lahore, which is the second largest metropolitan city of Pakistan with an area of 347 km2 and population of more than 8 million [15, 16].

The data was collected by emergency control room of Rescue 1122, Lahore, and the emergency records of fire incidents for the period (June 2007-2010) from twelve major districts of the Punjab was retrieved. The statistical data was tabulated and analyzed in excel sheet to find out the leading causes of fire emergencies. This study involved all fire incidents reported to Rescue 1122 during the above mentioned period.

 

RESULTS

The descriptive analysis carried out in this study showed that in total 17903 fire emergencies were managed by Rescue 1122 during the above mentioned period. City of Lahore shared maximum 6838 cases (38%), Faisalabad 2628 cases (15%), Rawalpindi 1721 cases (10%), Gujranwala 1517 cases (8.47%), Multan 1506 cases (8.41%), Sialkot 1137 cases (6%), Sargodha 543 cases (03%), Sahiwal 488 cases (2.70%), DG Khan 475 cases (2.60%), Bahawalpur 469 cases (2.58%), Rahim Yar Khan 413 cases (2.30%) and Murree 168 cases (0.94%) respectively.

The most common causes found behind these fire emergencies were; Short circuiting 9028 cases (50%), Careless Smoking/Smoking related fires 1722 cases (10%), Gas Leakage 810 cases (5%), Candle/Heater 379 cases (2%), Forest Fires 178 cases (1%), Fireworks 146 cases (1%), LPG/Cylinder blast 132 (0.82%), kitchen Fire 25 cases (0.18%), unknown 4515 cases (25%) and others 968 cases (5%) respectively.

 

DISCUSSION

The descriptive analysis revealed that, Lahore shared maximum 38% of total fire tolls, followed by Faisalabad 15% and Rawalpindi 10% respectively. Altogether these three cities shared 63% of the total fire burden, the reason behind this fact is that, one third of Punjab’s population presently lives in urban areas and rapid growth of cities and the resulting urbanization are creating economic, social stresses and many other hazards e.g. Fires [17].

Lahore is home to over 8 million inhabitants and the other four cities namely Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan and Gujranwala, each have population in excess of one million, around 47% of the urban population of Punjab lives in these five large cities as mentioned above. These cities, suburbs and the economic regions surrounding them produce an estimated 80% of the industrial production of Punjab, and 33% of the country’s GDP and therefore also the major contributors in fire tolls [17].

Gujranwala which is the seventh most populous city of Punjab, entailed in 8.47% fire incidents as compared to Multan 8.41% (which ranks fifth). The reason behind could be the presence of more industrial units in Gujranwala in contrast to Multan.

Murree shared least 0.94% of the total fire load, possibly because it is mountainous area, least populous and least industrialized city as compared to other cities included in this study. Additionally, Murree, being one of the coldest places in Pakistan, has frequent fire cases related to electrical heater and burning of wood, especially in snowfall season.

Regarding leading causes of fire incidents, short-circuiting (50%) appeared to be major root cause in the present study. This is attributable to lack of proper fire safety system in the country. Electric supply system is very old and is not updated. Many fires are caused by old and faulty electrical wiring. Older homes and commercial settings are particularly susceptible because of aluminum wiring that increases the chances of fire. An ongoing “Energy Crisis” in the country and unscheduled power failure is also a contributing factor in short circuiting.

Careless smoking/ smoking-related fires” found to be the second major reason (10%) of fire emergencies amongst the known causes. The term “Smoking-Related Fires” applies to those fires that are caused by cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and heat from un-determined smoking materials [18]. This is one of most serious international public health issue, which has a grave impact on health and economy of any society. For instance, between 2006 and 2008, an estimated annual average of 9,000 smoking-related fires occurred in residential buildings in the United States [18]. These smoking-related fires accounted for 2 percent of residential building fires responded by fire departments across the nation and resulted in an average of approximately 450 deaths, 1,025 injuries, and US Dollars 303 million in property loss each year [18]. This becomes even more challenging for a developing country like Pakistan, where health and safety standards are already non-existent.

Fire department unit has encountered natural gas in a variety of situations and incident types (For example; Gas leakage 5% and LPG/cylinder blast 0.82% in the current study), each presenting a different set of hazards and problems. Natural gas is much lighter than air and usually dissipates rapidly in the outside environment, inside buildings, however, it tends to pocket, particularly in attics and dead air spaces. The flammable limits are approximately 4% to 15% in air. Natural gas itself is nontoxic; however, it displaces oxygen and can result in asphyxiation if in a confined space. Burning natural gas should not normally be extinguished, since this would change the situation from a visible to invisible hazard with explosive potential. Fires should be controlled by stopping the gas flow at first priority [19].

Fireworks, depict merry moments, however, if played with carelessness, can turn celebration into a tragedy and in traditional Pakistani weddings; aatish-baazi (fireworks display) is an essential component for Baraats (groom’s arrival at the bride’s home). Crackers and Shurlees are fired as an expression of celebration and happiness for the two families tying the knot while children can’t resist playing with crackers, and bang-pranks of every kind [20, 21].

The dotted presence of domestic manufacturers of firecrackers is a common feature in various parts of the country. Any one especially paan shops sell fireworks under the guise of legal business. The danger of possible high loss of lives is particularly intensified since the streets of most of these areas are congested and mostly packed with pedestrians. In case of emergency even escape routes are not available and the worrying aspect is that, the law enforcement has not been able match to the rapidly growing non-regulated manufacturing of fireworks [20, 21].

Children playing with matches are a major source of home fires/kitchen fires. According to the Burn Awareness Coalition, burns are the number one cause of accidental deaths in children under the age of two. Fire and burn injuries are the second leading cause of accidental deaths in children ages 1-4, and the third leading cause of injury and death for ages 1-18. Matches and lighters in the hands of young children are a significant factor in fire fatalities [22]. Other most important causes of home fires are; faulty wiring, careless cooking, use of ordinary extension cords, placement of electric heaters and open flame heaters too close to combustibles etc.

In this study 25% of fire incidents were those where the cause of fire could not be determined, a figure which may be important to assess, if potential preventive measures are to be evaluated.

 

CONCLUSIONS

This study found that major cities have more fire incidents and that rapid urbanization and industrialization played an important factor in this trend. This prompts to a number of recommendations, which might reduce the likelihood of fire emergencies in the country.

Firstly, short-circuiting could be reduced by following the fire safety standards and by updating of obsolete electric supply system in the country. Fire safety units, development authorities and other concerning departments need to play an active role to enforce fire safety measures, during the construction of a new buildings or to get implemented in structures that are already standing, and also to ensure the use of only fire resistant cables in all commercial and residential settings.

Secondly, fire triggered by smoking is preventable and hence smokers should practice fire safety while smoking. Rescue 1122 is also trying to deal with this challenge by imparting this element in Community Awareness Programme, which has already been launched all over Province Punjab. In the same lines, candle/heater, forest fires, LPG/cylinder blast, kitchen fire could be reduced by following home fire safety guidelines and personal obligation and sense of liability. For this end mass media campaign (print and electronic) could also play a valuable part. Furthermore, educating parents and grandparents to the seriousness of this issue is paramount.

Thirdly, regarding fireworks business, the strict enforcement of laws that prohibit manufacture of explosives and their open sale falls under the preview of district administration, therefore law enforcers need to play their dynamic role in this matter.

Finally, unknown fire incidents should be evaluated to consider some preventive measures and “Fire Investigation Training” of the concerning staff could be useful in this bearing.

 

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    AUTHORS

    Navid Tahir1, Gloria Macassa2,3, Rizwan Naseer1, Mohsin Durrani1 & Waseem Hashmi1

    Affiliations: 1Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue 1122), Lahore, Pakistan; 2Department of Occupational and Public Health Sciences, University of Gävle; 3 Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.

    Corresponding Author: Muhammad Navid Tahir, Emergency Officer (Research), Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue 1122) Headquarters, Main Ferozepur Road, Lahore-54600, Pakistan. 

    Email:navidtahir2003@yahoo.com

     

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