Gokul Niwas fire aftermath: Fire ambulances to be phased out

Fire Brigade has decided to take this step after a recommendation by a committee that was formed after the Gokul Niwas fire

Fire ambulances kept at the Malad Fire station. File pic
Fire ambulances kept at the Malad Fire station. File pic

In the next few months the Mumbai Fire Brigade will phase out the fire ambulance services completely. The fire department will hereafter inform the disaster cell of BMC, and they will mobilise vehicles from the 108 ambulance service, which according to some firemen is mostly used for handling emergency cases, and will take time during peak hours to reach the spot.

Of 28 ambulances (six cardiac ambulances are stationed at BMC hospitals), the fire department had around 22 ambulances, of which only nine are stationed in some suburban fire stations, while the others have been scrapped. Interestingly, city fire stations do not have any fire ambulance.

A senior fire officer said, "Since the inception of Mumbai Fire Brigade in 1887, we had fire ambulances at each fire station, and within a minute of receiving a fire/natural calamity call, the fire ambulance and fire engines would rush to the spot."

"As firemen and fire officers are trained in Emergency Medical Service (EMS), they could not only reach the spot faster, but also take the injured to the nearest hospital faster, which may or may not happen as quick with private or national ambulance service," the officer added.

As per recommendations
Deputy Chief Fire Officer R Chaudhary said, "Soon after the Gokul Nivas fire (see box) a committee made certain recommendations and one of them was to exempt firemen from doing non-fire related work as they are trained for fire-fighting and rescue. Moreover, the ambulances were over 10 years old and we have scrapped them."

Chaudhary explained further, "In three shifts of eight hours, we would put three firemen (driver and two firemen), so on an average we would put nine men on a single ambulance, and 198 firemen in 22 ambulances that we had earlier. Now we have phased out 13 ambulances, which means we have 117 firemen for fire-fighting."

However, fire officials differ on this decision. A senior fire officer said, "If the ambulances are in bad condition then how are they being used for other runs like transporting fire officers or fire men from one place to other?"

Citizens shocked
Citizens' bodies have expressed their dismay and are surprised with this abrupt move by the Fire Department. Gerson Da Cunha of Agni too condemned the move. "Citizens must protest against this heartless and inexplicable decision," he said.

Mumbai First CEO Shishir Joshi lambasted the phasing out of ambulances by the Fire Brigade. He said, "This is a ridiculous idea, keeping in mind Mumbai's traffic challenges, it is important that fire safety and medical services go along with equal speed." Prabhat Rahangdale, the City Fire Chief and the State Director Fire Services, was not reachable.

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The fire ambulances stationed in the suburbs

Gokul Niwas fire

> A short circuit triggered the Kalbadevi blaze
> Assistant Commissioner of C ward did not reach the spot on time
> Too much equipment was sent to the spot, which hampered fire-fighting operations
> Traffic and parking in the narrow lanes delayed arrival of fire engines
> Several senior officials were on leave, only three deputy chief fire officials and the chief fire official were available
> Specific National Disaster Management Authority guidelines were not followed

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