MTNL blaze: No fire alarm, staff only heard colleagues' scream

Updated: Jul 23, 2019, 12:00 IST | Chetna Yerunkar, Dipali Kirpalani

Employees say the building's fire alarms did not work and they had to warn colleagues from various floors themselves before making their way to the terrace, from where they were rescued

MTNL blaze: No fire alarm, staff only heard colleagues' scream
Smoke billows from the MTNL building covering the skyline around Bandra fire station. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Gross negligence was written all over the fire that broke out at Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited's (MTNL) west zone office at Bandra West at 3 pm on Monday. While fortunately no one was hurt, survivors spoke of how not a single fire alarm in the building was working and that they were alerted only by the screams of their colleagues, after which most took refuge on the terrace of the building.

Chief Fire Officer PS Rahangdale confirmed that the fire-fighting system in the building was not in working condition. The Fire Brigade had rushed to help in the second serious fire incident in the city just a day after the blaze at Churchill Chambers that killed a person on Sunday. Its personnel were hailed by everyone at the spot, as they rescued 84 people from the ground plus nine-storey building.

Staff members weep in relief after being rescued from the inferno at the MTNL building in Bandra West on Monday afternoon. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Staff members weep in relief after being rescued from the inferno at the MTNL building in Bandra West on Monday afternoon. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

The fire department gave the incident a level IV call. According to the Standard Operating Procedure, this saw 12 fire engines, one quick response vehicle, seven water tankers, three turntable ladders, three breathing apparatus vans and the new robot vehicle were brought in. There were also 14 ambulances at the spot. It was the first incident in the city where the robot vehicle was used to help douse the blaze.

Also Read: Bandra MTNL fire: No casualties reported, around 100 rescued

Heavy smoke spreads

The heavy smoke from the fire had even reached Bandra station more than one km away. Commuters were seen covering their faces while walking on SV road. The fire engulfed the building's floors from the second to the fifth and is feared to have spread due to optical fibre cables that released a lot of smoke. This also made it difficult for firemen to fight the blaze. There were many electrical cables, switches, combustible materials that caused the smoke to spread and release a lot of carbon dioxide.

Firemen reach out to those trapped inside the building. Pic/Shadab Khan
Firemen reach out to those trapped inside the building. Pic/Shadab Khan

While no one among those rescued was injured, a fireman sustained minor injuries and was treated at the site. "Another fireman, Sagar Datta Salve, 25, complained of suffocation and was admitted in the hospital. His condition is stable," said a Disaster Management Cell official.

'No fire alarm, only screams'

Laxmi Chaube, a staffer from the billing department, who was on the sixth floor, realised that the lift was not working. She said, "I then took the stairs to go down but when I reached the fifth floor, thick smoke enveloped the staircase making it impossible for me to see. I immediately started going upwards, alerted a few more people on my way and stood on the terrace for almost two hours until I was rescued with a ladder." When asked if she heard a fire alarm, she said she only heard the screams of people and realised there was a fire.

Fire Brigade personnel rescue a trapped woman
Fire Brigade personnel rescue a trapped woman

Another employee, Shrikant Nibade said, "There was a short circuit and the fire broke out around 2:45-3:00 pm on the second floor." Raja Rahbar Khan, ex-municipal councillor of Bandra, insisted that a working fire alarm system was not in place. He said, "I am sure the fire system in the building was not functioning as there is no maintenance in the building."

Defunct fire-fighting system

CFO Rahangdale said there were many combustible materials due to which the fire spread and floors from the second to the fifth were engulfed. He said, "It had become difficult for us to enter the premises due to the thick smoke, but my firemen have done a good job throughout. We rescued 70 odd people from the terrace and around 14 people from various floors. There are no missing complaints but we are now carrying out a search operation. The cause of the fire is under investigation."

Some of those trapped screamed and waved out to get the attention of Fire Brigade personnel. Pics/Shadab Khan
Some of those trapped screamed and waved out to get the attention of Fire Brigade personnel. Pics/Shadab Khan

At the time of going to press, Rahangdale said added that a head count was being taken though MTNL authorities had said no person was missing. "About 150 officers and men were involved in the fire-fighting operation. About 160 breathing apparatus sets were used. It is one of the biggest successful fire-fighting and rescue operations in recent times in India," said Rahangdale.

BMC speak

Assistant Municipal Commissioner of H west ward, Sharad Ughade said, "No casualty was reported but the search operation is still going on, and 84 people were saved. We will enquire why the fire alarms weren't working. We will carry out an audit of the fire-fighting system."

Police had a tough time keeping onlookers away. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Police had a tough time keeping onlookers away. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

84
No. of people rescued in all

150
No. of firemen involved in the rescue operation

An injured Fire Brigade officer being treated at the spot. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
An injured Fire Brigade officer being treated at the spot. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Robot officer shines

CFO PS Rahangdale was all praise for the robot vehicle, which was used for the first time in the city. However, he said it was not successful on the first attempt as it did not get much space to turn on the first floor. "But on the second attempt in the back of the building where human intervention was difficult, the robot was of great help and functioned for over one and half hour," he said.

  • A fire robot is a remote-controlled machine used for fire-fighting operations when it is dangerous for fireman to venture inside
  • It can be used for extinguishing the fire in situations like 26/11, dilapidated buildings, multilevel basement, chemical plant fires etc
  • The machine sprays water and has an adjustable pressure
  • It is capable of spraying water up to 55 metres (approximately 30-storeys high)
  • It can also hold out in temperatures that go up to 700 centigrade
  • It can reportedly release 3,800 litres of water every minute
  • It was first used at Bandra's MTNL office fire

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