At Mantralaya,firemen fought alterations,blocked passages

Firemen were given 3-decade-old plan of the building,completely different from the new layout.

Written by Stuti Shukla | Mumbai | Published:June 23, 2012 2:24 am

With the recovery of two more bodies from the sixth floor of the Mantralaya building today,the death toll in the fire that swept through the seven-storey structure on Thursday climbed to five.

While the Fire Brigade was accused of delaying the start of operations,what was left unsaid was that the firemen were given an over three-decade-old plan of the building,which was completely different from what they stared at through the smoke and flames — over the years,innumerable alterations and additions had been made in passageways and offices,rendering them utterly unrecognizable.

Windows of at least 20 cars with beacons,parked on the approach road inside the complex,had to be smashed so their handbrakes could be disengaged and they could be moved manually or towed to make way for fire trucks.

“We could not find the drivers. Precious time was lost in doing this,and the fire spread quickly and turned into an inferno,” a senior fire brigade official said.

The cars’ beacons were both red — used by ministers and top IAS officers — and amber,used by IPS officers.

The firemen also discovered that there was no way for their trucks to enter the inner portion of the building. “We positioned eight snorkels on four sides of the building,but the part around the inner central courtyard could not be reached,” the fire official said.

“Because the fire tenders could not enter,firefighters had to go in on foot with hose pipes. But beyond a certain point,the extreme heat and smoke checked movement. This is the portion in which the fire raged the longest,” the official said.

Seventeen large and small hosepipes were used to direct water at the flames.

Fire safety norms mandate that at least nine metres of space around the building line should be concrete so that fire trucks can ring the building in a fire. At Mantralaya,more than half of this area is a grassy patch.

The absence of fire-resistant doors and concrete partitions in cabins,and the presence of inflammable material fuelled the fire.

During the rescue,it became clear that Mantralaya staff had no fire training. “We could see people rushing towards the wrong side of the passage in panic. They were clueless,had no idea what to do in a fire,” the official said.

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