Deonar blaze: Why fire fighting is a toxic job

In addition to working long hours to extinguish the Deonar fire, over 50 fire fighters at the site even have to eat their meals amid the noxious fumes, thus risking their health

Even as Mumbai reels under a heavy blanket of ever-present smog, over 16 fire vehicles and more than 50 fire fighters have been pressed into the tedious task of dousing the fire at the Deonar dumping ground. While food and water is being offered to the fire fighters for the first time by the BMC, they still have to force themselves to eat their meals surrounded by toxic gases, during their eight-hour duties.

Sources confirmed that the fire fighters at the centre are serving mandatory office hours after the fire call as well, leaving them no time for any rest. Pic Courtesy/Fire department
Sources confirmed that the fire fighters at the centre are serving mandatory office hours after the fire call as well, leaving them no time for any rest. Pic Courtesy/Fire department

Moreover, sources confirmed that the fire fighters, functioning at the centre are serving mandatory office hours after the fire call as well, leaving them no time for any rest. On the other hand, medical experts have advised each one of them to see their doctors and after completing the operation.

While the fire broke out at Deonar dumping ground a week back, frequent fire breakouts have been taking place in and around the 132-hectare area of the country’s largest dumping ground. Needless to say, this has kept the fire fighters fairly busy. Seven fire fighting engines and nine water tankers were trying to control the fire yesterday, which was the seventh day of the fire. Fire fighters confirmed that while the larger part of the fire has been controlled, repeated incidents at various spots have kept them bonded to the spot.

“Only 10% of the fire is remaining to be doused, we have successfully controlled the rest. As it is, it’s only this time the fire is causing so many debates and controversies. For us, it has been a very old and hectic issue,” said one of the firemen.

No escape
The state of the fire officers and firemen working at the spot is much worse than that of the residents and politicians complaining about the same. While multiple teams of the firemen are working in two shifts due to lack of to 1 pm and 1 pm to 9 pm. Surprisingly, it is the first time they have been given lunch or dinner facilities by BMC officials.

While they have food and water, there is no escape from the toxic smoke emitting 24/7 from the partially burning garbage. “We have food to eat, but we are eating in an area surrounded by toxic smoke and foul stench. How healthy can it be?” asked another fireman.

Long hours
At the same time, even after spending eight long hours at the spot, the firemen are asked to report back to office to complete their working hours. Some of the senior fire officers pushed into the duty have done five shifts, while the juniors are working back-to-back duties to relieve their subordinates in a matter of seven days. “After every big fire call, there is a mandatory rest period. But as the department is asking us to work, we don’t have any other option than to follow the orders,” said a senior fire official. While mid-day had carried a report regarding the traffic police department ordering 3,500 facemasks for their personnel after issuing strict instructions to wear them, no such special treatment is given to the fire officers. With the limited number of masks available, fire fighting has become nothing but a task for the teams of the trying to douse the fire.

CFO says
P S Rahangdale, Chief Fire Officer of Mumbai Fire brigade said that while the job of the fire fighters was tough, they have been given the responsibility to fight adverse conditions. “There was no access road, the area is filled with toxic fumes and only 15% oxygen to breathe, but we took all the necessary precautions. We had water to keep the firemen hydrated and used effective techniques so that the work is completed faster. I appreciate the efforts of the firemen who successfully surrounded the fire within three days,” said Rahangdale.

Eating, drinking in the dump a bad idea
When asked about the probable factors affecting the fire fighters after they complete working at Deonar, Dr Om Shrivastava, director of the department of infectious diseases, Jaslok Hospital said that considering the variety of toxic fumes, any person shouldn’t ideally spend more than three hours at the spot. “I’m sure the fire fighters are equipped to handle these sort of situations and have their protocols in place but the fumes which contain fine particles and harmful gases like carbon monoxide can cause poisoning. Eating or drinking at the venue is definitely a bad idea,” said Shrivastava.

He also said that inhaling the fumes for more than three hours could lead to bronchitis and other respiratory conditions, which can result in scarring on lungs, due to the residue of the fumes. “I suggest the firemen should be in their respective gears at all times and see their doctors and do necessary tests. To recuperate, they cannot ignore major health issues,” added Shrivastava.

Dousing deonar, through jugad
Talking about the technique the fire fighters are using for extinguishing the fire, Chief Fire Officer, Prabhat Rahangdale called it a ‘Jugad Technique’, which has worked in their favour and offered successful results.

“Dousing fire with the use of handheld water hoses wasn’t able to penetrate the combustion and the other idea offered by NEERI to use magnesium chloride also failed due to the large area. That’s when we came up with the idea of reinforcing the forklifts with hosepipes and a tanker. We divided the entire area into six nodes and in each node there was one forklift, accompanied with fire engine and tanker. While the forklift was lifting the garbage, the hose pipe attached to it was able to penetrate the heap of garbage,” said Rahangdale.

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