Promila Kanya

In September of this year, one weekend morning while making breakfast, our house help started screaming. We were startled awake and when we came to the kitchen, we saw that our gas stove was on fire. The previous day, the help had complained of a gas leak and repairman had fixed it. The moment we realized that we didn’t have a fire extinguisher and that this fire could very well destroy the whole house, we fled.
This incident was a huge lesson learnt for our family and we repaired the gas leak again and ended up buying a whole new stove. I also realized that there are many families like mine who are quite oblivious to the dangers of fire hazard.
Only last week, eight members of a family died tragically from a fire incident in Joypurhat district. The fire broke out from an electric short-circuit. Before this incident, gas leakage in the kitchen killed a couple and burned many others in a similar accident in Uttarkhan of the capital. Another housewife in Gulshan suffered a 98 percent burn when her gas stove burst and she succumbed to her injuries within 24 hrs. Almost every month we hear such news of fire accidents from gas or electricity mishaps yet there is not much improvement put a stop to these or even raise awareness in households.
Unplanned urbanization is the cause behind rampant housing facilities for the middle-class where families are crammed in one room with a communal kitchen. The kitchens are often poorly ventilated or without windows so one fire outbreak is enough to put ten other families at risk of death and damage. In the Rohingya camps, despite having LPG cylinders, they prefer to use firewood because they do not how to use them and they are also afraid of accidents. Use of firewood is one of the main causes of indoor pollution and the wildlife near Cox’s Bazaar are at risk from cutting down of the trees. Moreover, increasing rate of deforestation means these hilly areas are more exposed to land and mud slides. A simple step such as ensuring fire safety at the refugee camps can put an end to many other related problems.
Illegal connections are another significant reason behind these gas accidents. The government had long restricted gas connections in households yet there is a vested quarter whose ill intentions put the lives of thousands at risk. These culprits, who bring illegal connections in exchange for huge sums of money, should be brought to justice and harshly punished. Owners and tenants should also regularly check the gas and electricity points for faults and keep everyone else informed of any leak or damage. Certain cautionary measures such as switching off electric water geyser, putting out candles, lamps, mosquito coils before going to sleep and keeping flammable things away from fire can help save lives.
Deaths from fire accidents are often caused by respiratory failures and sepsis (when the infection spreads to the blood). Those who are fortunate enough to live but are injured often go through many difficulties. Burn injuries are one of the worst because the treatment is time consuming, expensive and the wounds also take long to heal completely. Victims often suffer from infections, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and most burn wounds leave permanent scars.
In case of fire accidents, the place should be immediately evacuated and the emergency helpline should be contacted. Schools, colleges, universities and office buildings should regularly hold fire drills. Many buildings have fire extinguishers and fire doors but maintenance has to check up on them at least once a month. There should also be more than one people who know how to use the extinguishers so that unnecessary panic can be avoided.
Another important issue is rehabilitation and post-trauma care for the burn victims. Those who become invalid need proper physical and psychological treatment and in no way they should be stigmatized. This is where we need to be more empathetic as a society.
If authorities concerned take steps, we may become more capable to lessen the pain of these victims. There should be awareness campaigns, improved treatment facilities at public hospitals, complete ban on illegal pipelines, mandatory routine check-ups on LPG cylinders at home and in vehicles, psychological help for survivors and lastly, change in social perception of burn victims.

The writer works with
Bangladesh Post