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‘Nothing in this world is fireproof’

FPJ Bureau | Updated on: Saturday, June 01, 2019, 01:15 AM IST

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“Firemen at Kalbadevi incident had done a commendable job as they did not let the fire spread to adjacent buildings which was very much a possibility. The fire was contained but it is highly unfortunate that we lost four of our officers.”

In the wake of recent fire incidents, Chief Fire Officer (in-charge) P S Rahangdale shed light on the two back to back fires in the city, the challenges faced by the Mumbai Fire Brigade and the recent report which raised questions on the working of Mumbai Fire Brigade following the Kalbadevi fire. In a  tete-a-tete with Iram Siddique, Rahangdale spoke on the need to sensitise people on the way to response during the fire.

There are allegations that the fire brigade could not reach on time which lead to the death of seven people in Powai fire?

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Ans: It is not true. Of course the fire brigade took about 15-20 minutes to reach the spot but that was because of the congestion on city roads. The traffic is always a problem and it is well-known. Moreover, after reaching the spot firemen could not find a location for parking fire engines because of heavy vehicular parking beneath the building. We had faced a similar problem during the Lotus building fire as parked vehicles had first to be cleared so that snorkel ladders could be put up to reach the fire spot.

Locals alleged that even after fire brigade reached the spot, for quite some time they could not set up the ladders and they were ill prepared?

Ans: The snorkel ladder needs to be set up so that fire fighting can be effectively done from outside. But there was a lot of parking outside the building premises for which ladders took some time while before it could be adjusted.

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What was the difference in the mechanism adopted for fighting fire at Lake Lucerne from that at Gokul Niwas in Kalbadevi?

Ans: Yesterday we had a major advantage that the building had an in-build fire fighting system which was effectively working unlike that in Kalbadevi. In a highrise there are three different teams at work at the same time from within the building which is not visible to the people outside. The first is the ‘rescue team’ which only strives to remove people that might be stuck inside the building, another team to rescue those in the lift. The second team was fighting fire from within the building and only the third was visible from outside which was trying to bring the fire under control from outside. At Kalbadevi we were only fighting fire from outside. Firemen at Kalbadevi had also done a commendable job as they did not let the fire spread to adjacent buildings which was very much a possibility. The fire was contained but it is highly unfortunate that we lost four of our officers in that process.

The Mumbai Fire brigade has come under the line of fire for the death of four fire officers. What do you have to say about that?

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Ans: How can you say that the fire brigade is responsible for the death of four officers? Whenever we are involved in a rescue operation there are some calculated risks involved. At the time of Kalbadevi fire we were well aware that the structure is weak but not to the extent that it will collapse.

The fire officers who decided to go inside were aware of the risks involved and decided to take the calculated risk. It is highly unfortunate that the very portion of the building from where they stepped in collapsed inside that lead to their death.

Every fire incident in the city has raised question on the poor quality of equipments available with fire brigade. After you taking over as the Chief Fire Officer (CFO), how you look at improving the situation?

Ans: The equipments that we use in fire fighting are of European standards. Fire fighters from around the world utilise similar equipments and they are the best any fire brigade can get. These equipments are fire resistant and not fireproof. Nothing in this world is fireproof. The fire inside Kalbadevi was beyond the capacity of any fire equipment to protect human body with such high temperatures. Moreover, when it comes to normal uniform, there is a problem amongst firemen who at time do not wear fire resistance material as it makes you feel very hot.

But to make things right we have made a rule that firemen found not wearing these protective gears will have to face inquiry and stringent action will be taken against them. In fact all these equipments are being tested first for their quality before passing it to the firemen. I recently tested one. The test made it evident that there is nothing wrong with these equipments.

Kalbadevi fire report talks about improving the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of fire brigade. How do you look at it?

Ans: It is a very positive suggestion and in no way should be looked upon as a derogatory remark on fire brigade. It has happened for the first time in the history of Mumbai Fire Brigade that we have lost our Chief Fire Officer (CFO). The suggestion talks about training fire officers in a way that they do not have to depend on some head to give them orders. If we lose a fire officer the next in the hierarchy will take his/her position but what is expected from the officer is to calculate gravity of a call and immediately send the required logistics and fire engines to the spot.

There is no doubt that every officer knows the job well but what is more important is that officers should be able to handle the situation and co-ordinate with external agencies including traffic police for smooth and effective fire fighting. They should be able to respond well in time to clear everything.

What do the investigation report of the Lake Lucerne fire suggests and were fire fighting equipments within the building functional?

Ans: We are still waiting for the investigation report but those who died in fire were mostly the ones who were trapped in the building. The inbuilt fire fighting system of the building was functional and it did help us a lot.

What people do not realise is that taking a lift is like entering a death trap. Had people instead waited in their flats, we would have been able to save their lives like we rescued the family which was trapped in the adjacent flat from where fire broke out. The media has a crucial role to play in such situation and make people aware that in case of a fire people need either to wait for fire brigade to rescue them or try taking the stairs down but never use a lift. People can simply wet a towel and cover themselves as they wait in their homes.

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Published on: Monday, June 08, 2015, 12:14 AM IST