Precisely a year since the deadly incident of fire at LDA Plaza, Egerton Road, the Lahorites are still reeling from scenes of people free-falling from the multi-floor building in a bid to save their lives, albeit in vain. Sadly, no inquiry report was ever made public and the responsibility for the death of 23 people (official figure) was fixed on no one.
The fire that erupted on May 9, 2013 started an unending blame game between the LDA and the Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue 1122). It was said that the former did not follow the prescribed building bylaws and the latter did not have the required equipment, particularly a long ladder, to combat the fire that engulfed the top three floors of the plaza.
The incident exposed both the authorities. If the plaza had an external steel staircase, which has now been made compulsory for any multi-storey structure, the casualties could have been avoided. Rescue 1122, on the other hand, did not have a long ladder or a crane. Nor did they have gas masks or batteries. If the fire fighters had the ladder to pump water to the upper floors, the fire could have been controlled before it wreaked havoc on the people trapped inside.
An LDA director, on condition of anonymity, says the city fire-fighting service still does not have the ladder.
A Rescue 1122 spokesman Jam Sajjad Hussain says, “For a high-rise, there ought to be an external steel staircase for use in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately, the LDA main Johar Town building still lacks one. If the Authority had learnt its lesson, several lives could have been saved.
“A fire-fighting service is just tasked to douse the fire and rescue the trapped; it isn’t their job to ensure the implementation of building bylaws,” he adds.
“There should be a separate passage for a fire-fighting vehicle. Besides, fire fighting equipment ought to be fixed on every floor. Secondly, there should be a hurdle-free route around a high-rise building which can be used by rescue teams in case of an emergency.
“Unfortunately, most of the plazas in the city don’t adopt these measures,” says Jam Sajjad Hussain. “It is the job of LDA and the district government to ensure compliance.”
The Rescue 1122 spokesman says the most important part is to respond quickly to an emergency situation. “LDA people failed to inform us in time, which resulted in a huge loss of life.”
Eventually, LDA demolished three (out of the nine) destroyed floors of the plaza. It took millions of rupees and almost six months — all of which got the Authority a lot of flak, particularly from the Egerton Rd users because the road was shut through the demolition.
According to an LDA director, the destroyed floors were removed when a team of UET’s structural engineers and professors asked LDA in a report that the floors could not be used. “The report was prepared by experts in 2-3 months which caused delay,” he says.
Presently, LDA is trying to restore the plaza for which it has allocated Rs300 million.
“LDA is not the sole owner of the plaza. It has other sponsors including Small Industries and an insurance company. Besides, the decision of the restoration of the plaza was made unanimously and the project will start soon.”
He says LDA has learnt a lot from the tragedy. “The Authority has improved its safety measures at all of its offices.
“State-of-the-art fire alarm system has been installed. Every floor of the LDA Johar Town office has fire alarms now, fire exits and instruction boards. Besides, mock fire fighting exercises, LDA staff has been given training to combat fire and the fire fighting instruments are checked regularly,” he says.