Firefighters climb 38 floors to fight fire
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.”
The fire broke out on the 32nd and 33rd floors; (inset) firefighters work with only napkins covering their mouths.