The horror of the tragedy that struck a house in Lahore causing the death of six young siblings is beyond words. All the more so considering that it happened due to parental negligence. Sadly, a section of the electronic media aired unverified facts all through the day, laying the entire blame for the incident on the fire tenders and the rescue staff.
According to details, the children aged between one-and-a -half years and 12 years, were asleep in their three storey home- three boys on the ground floor and three girls on the first floor when fire broke out due to electric short circuiting in the boys room air conditioner. The smoke filled the upper storey as well.
It was a small, controllable fire but for parental negligence. It turns out that both parents had gone off to Data Darbar after locking the children’s rooms.
The oldest child, a 12-year-old girl, did spot the danger and informed parents about it, but they were too far away to reach in time. It took a while for the local people to detect the fire and further time in deciding to inform the Rescue 1122 service and the Fire Brigade. No one could be saved.
The unfortunate incident has generated a controversy about the performance of emergency rescue and the fire brigade. The local people, as reported by the media, levelled grave charges against the rescuers, saying (a) that they arrived late; and (b) their vehicles were without water, and in one case the nozzle of a water pipe was dysfunctional.
Some onlookers however have pointed out that by the time the firemen arrived the neighbourhood people, desperate to save the children, tried to take over the fire extinguishing work and in the process damaged the nozzle, which took a while to be fixed.
The government has set up an inquiry committee to establish facts of the case. Hopefully, if the rescuers arrived late, or unprepared, they will be held to account. It is important also to establish other important facts as well, such as that where were the parents at the time of the incident. Although the media reports say they had locked the rooms and gone off to Data Sahib’s shrine, the father kept telling a different story, suggesting he was in the vicinity and the mother in the upper storey of the house on fire.
It is important to verify and publicise this particular detail because it is not something unusual for parents to lock in children for safety’s sake before going out. That they do it out of ignorance about the possible dangers, like in the present incident, leaving the children with no chance of survival.
The officials in charge of the fire brigade and emergency rescue must also draw lessons from this tragedy. In fact the provincial government needs to pay serious attention to the issue. It must ensure that the concerned staff has necessary equipment and training to fight and control fires in an effective and efficient manner.
During the recent years, there have been several incidents of fire breaking out in markets, factories, and public buildings with devastating consequences. It is about time provincial governments in all the provinces see to it that fire safety measures in public places are strictly observed.
The text appeared as the editorial of Business Recorder today.