Will Mumbai fire brigade's tallest ladder rise to the challenge?

The newest, tallest feather in the brigade’s cap -- its 90-metre ladder which can tackle fires in buildings as high as 30 storeys, will face its first test on Saturday, with a fire drill at the 32-storey World Trade Centre; 20 fire officials are being trained in using the new machine by an engineer from Finland

The newest, tallest feather in the Mumbai Fire Brigade’s cap -- its 90-metre ladder is about to face its first test on Saturday, when it will be put through a fire drill at the World Trade Centre to ascertain how it performs in a situation of that kind.

The new vehicle with the fire brigade’s tallest ladder and the one that held the record before. When the ladders reach their peak, they seem to be one with the sky. Pics/Atul Kamble
The new vehicle with the fire brigade’s tallest ladder and the one that held the record before. When the ladders reach their peak, they seem to be one with the sky. Pics/Atul Kamble

Ahead of this test, mid-day got to see the new ladder in action yesterday, alongside the Mumbai Fire Brigade’s previous tallest ladder. The raising of the ladders to their highest possible mark, equivalent to the heights of 30- and 22-storey buildings respectively, makes for a rather impressive sight (Watch the video on www.mid-day.com).

Manoeuvring the vehicle, which has a length of 16.5 metres (54 feet) and width of 2.55 metres (8.3 feet), in Mumbai’s narrow roads will pose a problem for the officials, however, and an engineer from Finland where the ladder was procured from — has been called in to train fire officials to operate it.

The training began on Monday and the test on Saturday will reveal how well the officials have imbibed the lessons. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has also asked fire officials to prepare a proposal, to be sent to the state government, for sending seven officials from the brigade to Finland for one week of advanced training.

Keeping pace
The 90-metre ladder, manufactured by Bronto Skylift from Finland was inaugurated, along with the fire brigade’s new command centre in Byculla, by Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta on Sunday.

It is a significant addition to the arsenal of the fire brigade, whose tallest ladder so far could reach a height of 70 metres (22 storeys). “The Mumbai Fire Brigade has had ladders in its service since 1974. As the city expanded and grew vertically, we kept adding equipment to handle the challenges of a metropolis.

Now, with high-rises mushrooming all over the city, a 90-metre ladder was considered essential to cater to buildings with more than 20 floors,” said R A Chaudhary, Assistant Divisional Fire Officer (Technical), who is in-charge of fire equipment.

Above and below
Since Monday, 12 officers and eight operators from the brigade are being trained to use the ladder by Bronto service engineer Jyrki Jantunen from Finland. Jantunen, who has been working with the Mumbai Fire Brigade since the 90s, ever since they began procuring fire equipment from his country, is training officials in the operations and maintenance of the ladder.

Asked if the vehicle is equipped to handle the potholes and other problems of the city’s roads, Jantunen said, “The vehicle is a sturdy one, designed to handle extreme situations. It will not be affected by potholes.”
Jantunen said the vehicle can be used for rescue operations below ground level also.

For example, in cases of drowning, lifeguards can be lowered to the surface of the water from a bridge and the drowning person can be pulled onto the ladder’s platform and brought safely back to land. “That is also one of its uses, but it is up to the fire brigade how to use it,” he said.

Challenge
“I think the biggest challenge for us is the length of the vehicle. We will have to mind its rear and be careful while turning. Other than that, the mechanism is more or less the same as that of the 70-metre ladder,” said Vijay Barge, operator and instructor, who will be operating the new ladder.

On Saturday, the trained officials will get to test their training. “It will be a confidence-building measure for our officials. So far, they have been training within the confines of the fire station.

Soon, they will learn how to manoeuvre the vehicle on city roads, learn where to park it to get the best strategic position and use the hoses during the drill. It will also instill confidence in citizens,” Chaudhari said.

Figure trigger

500m
The distance from which the ladder can be operated through remote control, ensuring that the operator is not injured in the operations

Rs 16 crore
Cost of the new ladder

90 metre
Length of ladder

16.5 metre
Length of the vehicle

2.55 metre
Vehicle width

4.15 metre
Travelling height

52 tonnes
Weight of the vehicle

500 kg
The weight the platform of the ladder can take

5
The number of people that can be rescued through the ladder at a time

15 years
Life of the vehicle, as per RTO rules, after which it will be sent to Finland for overhaul

Emotional connect
The ladder was the baby of late Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesarikar, who had gone to Finland to conduct preliminary talks in April. The talks were successful and, soon after, the process of procuring the ladder was initiated.

The brigade had also floated a proposal to send seven of its officers, led by late deputy chief fire officer Sudhir Amin, to Finland for advanced training. They were supposed to go for a one-week training to Finland, starting May 3.

But, after the state government rejected the proposal, the Kalbadevi fire took place on May 9, in which Amin and Nesarikar lost their lives.

The proposal was then put in cold storage. But, when officials asked Mehta about the necessary training on Sunday, he asked them to put up a proposal immediately and assured them that an approval will be procured soon.

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