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Blaze at Grant Road raises questions over fire safety of high-rise buildings in Mumbai

According to data from the MFB (till October 2021), fire brigade officials had randomly inspected 1,526 buildings, including 52 high-rises, over 20-months to check fire safety measures.

Written by Laxman Singh | Mumbai |
Updated: January 23, 2022 8:03:00 am
The building on Saturday morning. (ANI)

A FIRE in the 20-storey Sachinam Heights in Nana Chowk at Grant Road has raised fresh questions over fire safety of high-rise buildings across the city and with the latest one claiming six lives on Saturday, fire brigade officials now say that they will ramp up inspection of buildings to check fire safety compliance.

While the transformation of old chawls into multi-storey towers and construction of new high-rise buildings has created new challenges for the Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB), experts and fire brigade officials said that the negligence in compliance of fire safety measures from housing societies or developers and poor implementation of Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006 are among the few reasons for making them vulnerable to fire hazards.

According to data from the MFB (till October 2021), fire brigade officials had randomly inspected 1,526 buildings, including 52 high-rises, over 20-months to check fire safety measures. Of these, 327 buildings were issued notices for non-compliance with fire safety while the remaining others were either in process of compliance or had complied.

In the case of a fire in a building in Grant Road on Saturday, fire brigade officials said that firefighting systems were non-functional, which delayed the firefighting.

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The general fire safety lapses include non-operational fire hydrants, fire alarms, water sprinklers, expired fire extinguishers and obstructions in front of fire exits. The report was submitted before the Standing Committee after a fire in the luxury One Avighna Park building at Currey Road.

“We will conduct a special drive to check fire safety compliance in buildings. In most of the fire incidents, firefighting systems were non-functional. Steps will be taken to ensure that buildings take fire safety seriously. Those found not following the norms will be prosecuted and more stringent action will be taken,” Hemant Parab, Chief Fire Officer of MFB, told The Indian Express. Parab further said that in the past two months during a special drive, 233 high-rises were inspected of which notices were issued to 133 buildings while 67 are under the process of compliance and the remaining 23 had complied.

According to the Fire Act, housing societies and commercial establishments must submit fire audit reports (Form B) every six months with the fire brigade department. This is being done with the help of a private third-party agency, which inspects their premises and ensures that all firefighting systems are in working condition. Along with this, fire officials also conduct random inspections of the premises for fire audits.

After the incidents of fires in the high-rises, earlier the fire brigade had undertaken a special drive to inspect such buildings and also conducted mock drills and evacuation drills.

“In many cases, it has been found that building’s firefighting systems are not working. Another worrisome thing is the submission of wrong reports by third-party auditors. When a fire breaks out in a high-rise building, the operational firefighting system is the first line of defence as it takes time for firefighters to reach the source if it is on the upper floors,” said a senior fire official from the fire brigade.

Fire incidents in One Avighna Park in Currey Road (1 dead) and Sunrise Hospital in Dreams Mall at Bhandup (12 covid patients died) are examples of flawed fire audit reports submitted by the private agencies. In both cases, the Mumbai Fire brigade had initiated action against the firms.

“For firefighters who are equipped with firefighting gear like breathing apparatus, helmets, hose lines it becomes very tough for them to climb 10 or 20 floors and then carry out rescue and firefighting. One needs to understand the importance of these firefighting systems. The active firefighting systems can help slow down in spreading the fire and early action,” said R A Choudhary, retired deputy chief fire officer and now an officer on special duty in the department.

Officials said that taking note of the increase in high-rises, the fire brigade had already procured three snorkels (ladder and platform van) with 70 meters, 80 meters and 90 meters that can go up to 30 floors. However, there are buildings up to 120 meters where the internal firefighting system plays a crucial role.

Meanwhile, activists blamed fire officials for not strictly implementing the Fire Act. According to the data, only three housing societies were prosecuted for non-compliance with fire safety norms till October last year.

“If the fire brigade starts prosecution of establishments that are not taking fire safety seriously it will send a strong message. The fire brigade’s prosecution has always been very poor,” said Shakeel Shaikh, who has filed a Public Interest Litigation before the Bombay High Court against illegal nursing homes and hospitals running without mandatory fire brigade’s permission.

Fire brigade officials have also pointed out that along with fire audits an electrical audit of the building should be made compulsory as about 80 per cent of fire incidents are due to electrical short circuits.

However, officials from the fire brigade said that the low prosecution is because of overburdening of fire officials. “Firefighters are overburdened as they have to also fill in for administrative works in the office and then firefighting…,” said an official from the fire brigade on condition anonymity.

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