Kalbadevi fire: Too much equipment, lack of coordination hampered firefighting, says report

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Pulling up the BMC for the C ward assistant commissioner not reaching the spot on time and for too many fire engines being sent to the spot, a seven-member panel from the municipal body has recommended a slew of changes to ensure a better response

A report submitted yesterday by the committee set up to probe the Kalbadevi fire contains stinging observations against BMC departments and officials. The panel has noted that the assistant commissioner of C ward did not reach Gokul Niwas immediately on May 9 and that too many fire engines and too much equipment was sent to the spot, which actually hampered the process of fire fighting.

Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has asked Assistant Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Deshmukh to implement the committee’s recommendations. File pic
Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has asked Assistant Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Deshmukh to implement the committee’s recommendations. File pic

The report is, however, silent on the long-pending demands of a group insurance scheme for firemen and increasing their risk allowance. The panel has also made several recommendations, including the setting up of fire chowkies on the lines of police chowkies to act as first responders in case of fire and to keep the fire brigade free from non firefighting related activities.

The seven-member committee was headed by Additional Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Mukherjee and had acting Chief Fire Officer Prabhat Rahangdale, chief of the BMC’s disaster management cell, Mahesh Narvekar, Chief Engineer (mechanical and electrical department) A S Gupta, Director of Fire Services (Govt of Maharashtra) S S Warick, Deputy Municipal Commissioner Narendra Barde and Chief Engineer Laxman Vhatkar as the other members.

The report was submitted to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis within the stipulated time of three weeks yesterday and he asked Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to make the report public.

Short circuit
The 32-page report mentions short circuit as the cause of the fire and states that traffic and handcarts parked in the narrow lane hampered the speed of the fire engines, which took 12 minutes to reach the spot. “Owing to lack of coordination between various agencies, excess equipment reached the spot and hampered the process of fire fighting,” the report states.

It also states that senior BMC officials could not be contacted on time and Assistant Commissioner Sangeeta Hasnale of C ward did not reach the spot immediately. mid-day tried contacting Hasnale on the matter, but she remained unavailable for comment.

The report points to the lack of senior officials in the fire brigade at the time of the fire and notes that of seven deputy chief fire officers, one had been suspended, one was on a long leave, and two were on short leave. Thus, the department had only three deputies and one chief fire officer (interim charge) available at the time the fire broke out.

The lack of people manning the hotlines (direct phone lines) between the BMC and fire brigade and the fact that the disaster management unit of the C ward office suffers from lack of manpower were among the other lacunae listed in the report. Besides, it states that the Incident Response System stipulated by the National Disaster Management Authority was not applied at the time of the accident.

Recommendations
The panel has recommended that fire chowkies be set up on the lines of police chowkies. These chowkies can have skeletal staff and one fire engine to act as first responders in cases of fire. Another major recommendation is to keep fire brigade staff free from non fire-fighting related activities. It has also called for a full-fledged Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to be put in place for firefighting operations.

The panel has also suggested that the fire brigade be given a list of dilapidated buildings in the city based on which it can design its firefighting operations in the future, and called for a complete ban on small and large manufacturing units and gold processing units inside residential buildings in the city. It states that MHADA should look for an alternative to congested buildings and speed up redevelopment in the old parts of the city.

The committee has recommended that an audit of electrical equipment be carried out in all residential buildings to make sure they do not become a fire hazard. The civic body has also recommended that the BEST should prosecute defaulters who allow hazardous wires and open electrical boxes in their buildings.

It has suggested that dry risers should be fitted in old buildings so that hose pipes can be inserted in them and water can be provided to top floors in case of fire. It has called for mock drills and fire awareness programmes to be held and for one resident of every building to be appointed as a coordinator between the residents and the BMC/fire brigade.

The panel’s report states that an MoU should be signed between the BMC and various authorities such as the Thane Municipal Corporation, Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation, Tata Power, Mumbai International Airport Ltd, Bharat Petroleum, so that equipment and manpower can be taken from these agencies in case of emergencies.

The civic body has also been asked to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for firemen, given the stressful conditions they work in. The mechanism will ensure that firemen can bring their grievances to the note of the immediate senior and, later, of the chief fire officer. The committee has also recommended that gymnasiums should be set up in fire stations for firemen to maintain physical fitness.

Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has asked Assistant Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Deshmukh to implement the committee’s recommendations.

Chairman speak
“This is the first time the BMC submitted a report within the stipulated time. The reason this report does not talk about insurance and risk allowance for the firemen is that it was not under our purview and not part of our brief. I think the biggest takeaway from the report is our suggestion to set up fire brigade chowkies on the lines of police chowkies.

These will work on skeletal staff and will be the BMC’s first response to emergencies. Besides, the fire brigade needs to be kept free of participation in non-fire fighting related activities,” the panel’s chairman, Sanjay Mukherjee, said. “We have asked for a list of dilapidated buildings to be given to the fire brigade so that they will be better prepared for such emergencies in the future.

We have also strongly recommended that the fire brigade should be allowed to concentrate on firefighting activities and be exempted from other exercises like giving NOCs to under-construction buildings, beach safety, bird rescue etc, which puts extra pressure on the administration,” added Mukherjee.

Report highlights

Observations
>> 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 firefighting operations
>> Traffic and parking in the narrow lanes delayed arrival of fire engines
>> Several senior officials were on leave, leading to only three deputy chief fire officials and the chief fire official being available
>> Specific National Disaster Management Authority guidelines were not followed

Recommendations
>> Set up fire chowkies on lines of police chowkies 
>> Exempt fire brigade from non firefighting related activities like issuing NOCs
>> Give list of dilapidated buildings to fire brigade
>> Impose complete ban on small and large manufacturing units, gold processing units inside residential buildings in the city
>> Conduct audit of electrical equipment in all residential buildings to make sure they do not become a fire hazard
>> Set up grievance redressal mechanism, gymnasiums for firemen

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