City’s trial by fire

Raw statistics with the BMC reveal that 21,379 cases of fire have been reported since 2009 till now.

A major fire broke out last week in Lotus Business Park. A major fire broke out last week in Lotus Business Park.
Written by Tanushree Venkatraman | Mumbai | Published on:July 23, 2014 12:09 am

On an average, Mumbai reported more than 10 incidents — small and big — of fire everyday in the last five years. Raw statistics with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation reveal that 21,379 cases of fire have been reported since 2009 till now. These claimed 1,281 lives and injured as many as 4,027 people. The Mumbai Fire Brigade, the first responder to a fire incident, is however, awaiting a major upgrade, finds out Tanushree Venkatraman

It is not that the Mumbai Fire Brigade is ill-equipped or has inadequate firefighting machinery, but there are many internal and external factors which hamper the progress and development of the 125-year old institution. The brigade not only deals with high stress levels and red-tape in the civic administration but also suffers because of apathy of residents and builders towards fire safety, heavy unionisation of its forces and a poor system of record-keeping that leaves little scope to learn from past mistakes.

“The major responsibility of any disaster management department is to analyse the incident, understand the shortages in the system, learn from its mistakes and make recommendations so that these are not repeated. Currently, both the BMC and the brigade refuse to acknowledge this crucial gap in its disaster management, which has worsened as they do not recruit trained professionals for the job,” says I C Sisodia, former chief vigilance officer and disaster management expert at BMC.

On July 18, a fire broke out on the 22nd floor of Lotus Business Park, a glass-facade building in Andheri (West). While the fire was initially not considered to be major, the fire brigade eventually took seven hours to bring it under control as the blaze escalated, spreading from the 13th to the 20th floor. The fire claimed the life of one fireman and trapped 32 others on the structure’s top floors. Investigations into the incident reveal that the building flouted several norms of passive and active fire-fighting.
The fire brigade carries out scrutiny of buildings in two ways — passive and active firefighting — and issues No Objection Certificates (NOC) in two stages. The first NOC is issued at the time of planning and the final one at the time of occupation as part of the building’s Occupation Certificate (OC).

Passive fire-safety features of a building include escape routes, fire lifts, fire exits, refuge area and provision of space around the building. Active firefighting features of a building include smoke detectors, alarms, riser systems, sprinkler system, functional hose-reels and a water tank.
“Almost 90 per cent of the buildings in the city flout both active and passive norms. In many cases, even if the active fire-fighting system is there, it is defunct creating problems during rescue and escalating even a minor fire,” says a senior fire official.

The space around buildings is also a crucial part of passive fire-fighting. Buildings with a …continued »

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