Fire­fight­ers climb 38 floors to fight fire

Mid Day - - CITY - TEAM MID-DAY mailbag@mid-day.com No. of hours taken to douse the fire No. of fire­fight­ers be­ing treated for smoke in­hala­tion

FIRE­FIGHT­ERS were forced to climb 38 floors to bat­tle a mas­sive blaze at a Prab­hadevi high-rise, af­ter the fire brigade’s much-ad­mired 90-me­tre snorkel van proved to be of no use on the ground. As a re­sult, it took five hours to douse the fire, which gut­ted the top three floors of the posh Beau Monde tower, home to high-pro­file cit­i­zens like ac­tor Deepika Padukone.

The fire brigade had bought the snorkel in 2015 at a cost of R16 crore, specif­i­cally to tackle fires at high-rises. How­ever, on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, when the depart­ment got a call about a level three fire at Beau Monde, the fire­fight­ers dis­cov­ered they couldn’t use the fancy equip­ment.

Why it didn’t work

For one, the snorkel would only go up to the 30th floor, whereas the fire had bro­ken out in a duplex on the 32nd and 33rd floors of the B wing. A lot of time was lost as fire of­fi­cers climbed 33 floors, plus five storeys re­served for park­ing. An­other team tried to douse the fire from the top of the ad­ja­cent A wing.

The com­pound did not have enough space to op­er­ate the snorkel van. So the en­tire ex­er­cise of bring­ing the 90me­tre snorkel went in vain.

Fire chief says

P Ra­hang­dale, chief fire of­fi­cer (CFO) of the Mum­bai Fire Brigade, said, “It was my pro­fes­sional de­ci­sion [to not de­ploy the snorkel van]. Firstly, the build­ing is taller than 90 me­tres. Sec­ond, there was a podium, so there is an an­gle of el­e­va­tion.

“Apart from that, as per as my ex­per­tise and pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence, there is a limit to fire­fight­ing from out­side; it has to be from the in­side. We had a suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. We have con­tained the fire right where it had orig­i­nated. We did not al­low it to spread it.”

How­ever, sources said that by the time the fire brigade ex­tin­guished the flames, the blaze had reached the 31st floor. An of­fi­cer who was part of the op­er­a­tion ex­plained, “The snorkel was sta­tioned at the podium at the build­ing premises. Due to the lack of space and a weak base, the snorkel could not be used even once. There was a strong chance of a cave-in if we had tried it. This ve­hi­cle can­not be used in such places.”

This is not the only point on which the fire brigade seemed un­pre­pared. mid-day ac­cessed a video of the res­cue op­er­a­tion, in which a cou­ple of fire­fight­ers were spot­ted in the smok­ing build­ing with­out masks. In­stead, they had merely tied hand­ker­chiefs around their mouths. As a re­sult, while no res­i­dents came to harm, two fire of­fi­cers were rushed to hospi­tal with breath­ing prob­lems. Their con­di­tion is now sta­ble.

Of­fi­cials strug­gled with in­tense heat, smoke and wind at the top floors. What helped was that the build­ing’s in­ter­nal fire­fight­ing equip­ment was func­tion­ing well. CFO Ra­hang­dale said, “This is a les­son to learn. As the build­ing’s in­ter­nal fire in­stal­la­tions were work­ing, we could op­er­ate six to eight jets. This helped tremen­dously.”

The BMC cur­rently has only three fire-fight­ing vans that Num­ber of storeys the snorkel can reach can tackle fires in high-rises. The van with the tallest lad­der has a reach of barely 67 me­tres, while the city has high­rises that are nearly four times as tall. For in­stance, the 61storey Im­pe­rial Tow­ers in Tardeo, con­structed in 2010, are 254 me­tres tall.

A long walk

Shiv Sena MLA Sada Sar­vankar said, “Al­though the fire brigade was on time, they did not have the equip­ment needed to douse the flames on the top floors. They worked re­ally hard, and walked all the way up to fight the flames. When the equip­ment can­not reach be­yond a point, why do fire of­fi­cials ap­prove build­ings taller than that? I will raise this is­sue with the BMC com­mis­sioner.”

Kishori Ped­nekar, Sena cor­po­ra­tor, said, “The lo­cal se­cu­rity guards ini­tially tried to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. They were not trained to deal with the fire. They alerted the fire depart­ment late.”

PICS/PRADEEP DHIVAR

The fire broke out on the 32nd and 33rd floors; (in­set) fire­fight­ers work with only nap­kins cov­er­ing their mouths.

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