A DAY after a fire broke out at the Sadhana Mills in Worli, officials from the Mumbai Fire Brigade said that the blaze started in a Reliance Life Sciences laboratory located on ground floor, which stored highly inflammable material.
“In the laboratory, there was a huge refrigerator, fully air-conditioned chambers and machinery for making injections that are used for healing burn injuries and blood pressure issues,” said an official. There was also a diesel engine and a boiler there, he added.
Calls, messages and mails sent to Reliance Life Sciences laboratory representatives received no response.
According to the Disaster Management Cell department, the fire was brought under control around 3.30 am and doused at 4.30 am. Earlier, 16 fire fighters, including deputy chief fire officer R A Choudhary had suffocated due to smoke inhalation. Their condition is now stable.
“The fire started from a huge walk-in cooler or refrigerator with multiple chambers. The lab was spread in about 8,000 square feet area. It contained PUF (Polyurethane Foam Insulation) or bakelite which is used for insulation and thermal purposes. It is highly inflammable. To check whether there was any violation in the unit, the civic body will do an inspection and prepare a report soon,” Assistant Municipal Commissioner of G-South ward (Worli, Mahalaxmi), Devendra Jain told The Indian Express.
Another BMC official said that the material was made of long chain hydrocarbon which releases thick smoke while burning.
The four-storey Sadhana Mill Industrial Estate, also known as Sadhana House, was constructed on a BMC leased land. Sadhana Mills stood on the land earlier.
Residents in vicinity of Sadhana House complained of uneasiness, breathlessness, suffocation and eye irritation. “We couldn’t sleep all night as the smoke caused irritation and uneasiness. Our houses were full of smoke and it had spread in more than 1 km radius. I wonder how can a such unit be allowed near a residential area,” said Digambar Kadam, resident of BDD Chawl number 82.
Another resident of nearby BDD Chawl, Ramesh said, “The smoke incovenienced many residents, especially those with asthma and breathing issues.”
Many residents claimed that 85-year-old Mali Devi, an asthma patient and resident of BDD Chawl number 82, died due to suffocation. However, doctors from KEM hospital and BMC officers said that they are not aware of any such complaints. Also an officer from Worli Police station said that the woman died before the fire started.
“When the fire broke out, initially, the building staff tried to douse it. But they failed as the smoke started suffocating them,” said a guard at Sadhana House. “They called the fire brigade when it went out of control,” he added.
Explaining the difficulty in taming the fire, an officer said, “As the smoke blinded us, we were unable to locate the source of fire. There were multiple chambers and partitions and no proper access to the inside of the lab. We demolished walls from three sides of the lab which cleared the smoke trapped inside. Then we removed a boiler and a diesel generator, preventing the fire from spreading.There was only one main gate to the lab.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chief Fire Officer, P S Rahangdale said, “Cause of fire is yet to be ascertained. We can arrive at a conclusion only after investigation. The fire-fighting systems of the building were in working condition.”
President of Fire Brigade Officers’ Association (FBOA) Prakash Devdas, alleged that the quality of breathing apparatus is not as per the recommended standards because of which it affected fire-fighters. “The breathing apparatus are not as per the standards. This is why our fire-fighters were suffocated. Also, there are inadequate breathing apparatus.”
However, CFO, Rahangdale denied the allegation and said, “The breathing apparatus available with us are the best and as per the required standards. We have enough breathing apparatus. Each fire engine has two breathing apparatus with them and in one breathing apparatus van there are 20 sets. We have three such vans so there is no question of shortage. Also, fire fighters were affected due to sudden rise in smoke. Since the smoke contained chemicals, it affected them and some of them complained of suffocation.”
He added, “The breathing apparatus sets have a signaling system on the cylinders. In case of smoke when visibility gets really low these signals help us trace firemen.”