The ladder that could have saved Surat studentshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/the-ladder-that-could-have-saved-surat-fire-tragedy-students-5760606/

The ladder that could have saved Surat students

The Surat Municipal Corporation now has a firefighter-cum-rescue lift vehicle, with ladders that can reach up to 55 metres high. But it was delivered two days after 22 students died in a blaze at a coaching centre in the city

The ladder that could have saved Surat students
The May 24 fire, where firemen could reach only uptil the third floor. (Express photo by Hanif Malek)

On May 26, Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) finally got the delivery of a fire engine with a turntable ladder that can reach up to 55 metres (around 180 ft) high. That was two days after 22 students died in a fire on the top floor of a building, from where summer coaching classes were being run illegally, in the city.

> The fire engines that rushed to the spot had ladders that could rise a maximum of 35 metres (114.8 ft). With firemen unable to reach them, many of the students jumped to safety. Most of them who died were too scared to jump.

Neither Kapodara nor Mota Varachha fire station, closest to the site at Sarthana, have modern hydraulic platforms, which can fight fires simultaneously with rescuing people. The vehicles with 55-m-high and 70-m-high ladders reached the spot around 45 minutes to one hour later, from Katargam and Adajan fire stations (8 and 18 km away, respectively). Says Surat Municipal Fire Officer Kirtibhai Modh, who was arrested on Thursday, “Earlier there was one hydraulic platform at the Mota Varachha fire station, but during the 2015 Patidar agitation, government properties and vehicles were targeted, so the vehicle was shifted to the Katargam fire station for safety. The vehicle is costly.”

The ladder that could have saved Surat students
The new vehicle (left) is fully automatic (Express photo by Hanif Malek)

> In November 2017, SMC had placed an order for a turntable firefighter-cum-rescue lift vehicle, with ladders which could reach up to 55 metres high. An expert committee had shortlisted the Magirus vehicle as the best for Surat, given the spurt in high rises in the city. In 2018, a global forecasting firm had ranked Surat as the world’s fastest growing city.

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> 18 months after the order was placed, the vehicle reached the Mumbai port on May 16. A municipal corporation officer says they were waiting to finish certain procedures for Customs clearance etc. Once the fire broke, these procedures were hurriedly completed and the vehicle was released from Mumbai port. It took two days to travel via road to Surat.

> Says Surat Chief Fire Officer Basant Pareek, “The cost of the vehicle is around Rs 8 crore, and we have kept it at the Adajan fire station. Magirus company official Tobias Larch is training our staff on how to use it.” Adajan fire official Ishwar Patel says their station was chosen as it has sufficient parking and broader roads around.

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> Listing the benefits of the new vehicle, Larch says it takes 90 seconds to set up, is fully automatic, its turntable ladder can rotate 360 degrees, and it can reach up to 55 metres high in a minute. “The vehicle can also carry three persons to safety at one time.” Further the vehicle has wind sensors which raise an alarm if the wind speed goes beyond 12 km per second, which can prove dangerous.

> Diamond polisher Dinesh Kevadiya, whose daughter Yashvi died in the fire, says one of the first things they noticed on reaching the spot was that the fire team’s ladder fell way short of the fourth floor, where Yashvi was stuck. “We have come to know SMC has got a new fire vehicle now. If its delivery had been taken earlier, many lives could have been saved.”