A controversy has erupted over the uniforms worn by firemen, in the wake of the recent fire at Mont Blanc Building in Kemps corner. Three years ago, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation purchased 2,000 uniforms costing Rs 60,000 each.
These uniforms, called Private Protective Equipment (PPE), were in accordance with international firefighting standards and were reported to provide more protection to the fighters. However, while dousing the flames at Kemps Corner on Friday, five firemen still ended up in hospital with burn injuries, despite having donned the PPE.
Right from the time the BMC had introduced the new set of uniforms, firemen had vented their ire against them. “The uniforms are stuffy and heavy. It gets really hot inside the PPE. On top of that, we are expected to brave the flames. How can we do that?” vented a fireman on condition of anonymity.
Many had refused to wear the PPE, as they believed it didn’t suit Indian conditions, particularly Mumbai’s hot and humid weather. Said another firefighter, “We have been having problems with the uniform from Day one. There have been times when we prefer not wearing it. It sometimes distracts us from our job, as the attire is difficult to manage.” He added that most chose to forego either the gloves or the helmet on call, as otherwise, it proved to be a hindrance.
The new uniform comprises a fire jacket, trousers, helmet, gloves, gumboots, and is made of a woolen material. The BMC has spent Rs 12 crore on the PPE. But the firemen believe the money has been wasted, as neither are they comfortable as they claim to be, and nor did they actually provide more protection. Sources said that the BMC had decided not to order the uniforms again.
Sharad Rao, the union leader who had opposed the bringing of such uniforms, said, “If these uniforms were so fire-proof, how did these five people get burnt even if they were wearing the uniform? This clearly shows the uniforms are not worth it and are only a cause of irritation to the firemen, as they are very heavy.”
Chief Fire Officer AN Verma told this newspaper, “Half of the officers don’t even wear the uniform. These five firemen were wearing it. They got injured because the flames flared up suddenly, but they’re safe and out of danger. It was because they were wearing the PPE that they got only minor burn injuries. However, we do take all the necessary precautions before going for a call. We adopt regular protective measures.”
No of firemen who ended up in hospital with burn injuries, despite having donned the PPE during the Kemps Corner fire
Private Protective Equipment
The new uniform comprises a fire jacket, trousers, helmet, gloves, gumboots, and is made of a woolen material.
The number of Private Protective Equipment (PPE) uniforms that the BMC purchased