Woman dies during mock fire drill in Bangalore

Published February 24, 2012 in “The Hindu” newspaper:
A fire drill at a garment factory went horribly wrong on Friday when a rope snapped sending a woman employee plummeting to her death from a height of nearly 15 meters.According to eyewitnesses, C.R. Nalina (24), a Senior Welfare Officer at Bombay Rayon Fashions Ltd. in Yeshwanthpur, fell head first onto the concrete floor below. Co-workers rushed her to a hospital in Krishnanagar but it refused to treat her. She was then moved to another hospital in Basaveshwarnagar where efforts to revive her failed.Co-workers said the event began at 10.30 a.m. with a few presentations and speeches. At 11 a.m. the entire premises was evacuated and the employees gathered outside to watch the drill.

Around 11.30 a.m., personnel from the Fire and Emergency Services proceeded to demonstrate one of their more eye-catching maneuvers. The move involved lowering a person from a height using a rope harness.

First a man was lowered and landed safely. When the fire personnel called for another volunteer, most people backed out but Ms. Nalina stepped up to the challenge.

“She probably felt that as a person responsible for employee welfare, she should set an example,” said one employee. She was put on a harness and lowered from the fourth floor window. “The rope snapped when she was nearing the second floor,” said Regional Fire Officer J.H. Ravishankar, who was on the spot.

Fire personnel initially told The Hindu that the rope used in the maneuver was a brand new one and made of nylon. But when the blood-soaked rope was brought to the hospital where the post-mortem was conducted, it became amply clear that it was not made of nylon. It also looked fairly old and worn out. A safety net was also not used during the drill.

A fireman who has spent over 20 years in the department said that a live model should never have been used for the demonstration.

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Obviously, no one associated with healthcare would attempt a fire drill by lowering someone from a window using a rope and harness. But this article raises awareness that conducting drills for evacuation during a fire are serious issues, that need to be carefully planned and implemented.

I remember being part of a fire evacuation drill early in my career where mock patients were evacuated down the stairs using fire-mans carry. Some of us were not up to the task and dropped our mock patients during the evacuation. Also, old mattresses were used to slide mock patients down the stairs. That ended up with a few volunteers with bumps and bruises. After that event, we never did another evacuation drill.

But it is important to plan and then drill evacuation methods. As a consultant, I frequently see the newer style evacuation chairs stashed in or near the stairwells. I ask staff if they have ever been trained on how to use the evacuation chairs, and often times I hear that they have not. When there is a fire and there is a need to evacuate the patients down the stairs, that is not the time to learn how to use the evacuation chairs.

 

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