ATC playing with fire?

Published: Dec 06, 2011, 08:27 IST | Bipin Kumar Singh |

The Mumbai Air Traffic Control (ATC), the nerve centre responsible for the safety of some 720 flights daily, is itself unsafe at the place from which it operates

The Mumbai Air Traffic Control (ATC), the nerve centre responsible for the safety of some 720 flights daily, is itself unsafe at the place from which it operates. Sources claimed that most of the fire-fighting devices in the building are either defunct or have not been readied for use in case of an emergency, thereby endangering life and property if a fire breaks out.

Poor state: Officials say non-functional hydrants and smoke detectors
at the ATC building at Sahar have rendered it susceptible to a fire disaster

Sources at ATC building near the Cargo complex in Sahar claimed that the building was equipped with 750 smoke detectors at the cost of tens of lakhs, but they are now in a non-working condition. A dozen fire hydrants placed on every floor are in manual mode, even though existing regulations stipulate that they should be in auto mode.

The sensitive ATC control tower has been left vulnerable. And there are no sprinklers either.

"A decade ago, all the high-end facilities of fire fighting were installed in the building after spending millions. Now most of them are either defunct or not placed properly. The matter has been brought to the notice of the joint general manager (fire) on many occasions, but nothing concrete has been done to improve things," a source at ATC Mumbai told MiD DAY.

The building has a designated fire department with 15 officials and a joint general manager to supervise affairs.

Process delayed
For his part, Shanker Gopal, joint general manager (fire), ATC building, said, "It is true that some fire-fighting devices are not in order and need to be serviced. I have personally written to the department concerned (general manager, electrical) twice but nothing has been done. I don't know why the process is being delayed."

Sources also revealed that the building is dependent on the fire station established by Mumbai airport, which is located a few kms away. "About four months ago, a fire incident at the building exposed the poor preparedness. In case of any major blaze, the ray of hope is the fire station situated at the airport," added the source.

Nevertheless, according to sources, in case the functional ATC tower becomes unoperational in an emergency situation, a secondary ATC system has been installed at a highly secure location inside the airport.

Expressing his view on fire safety, fire expert Pramoud Rao said, "I believe it is mandatory to put fire devices in order at a place like the airport. If that is not happening, it is a cause of concern. I believe it's a mindset issue that has led to fire security never featuring on top of the priority list." 

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