Cooling operations on at fire-hit MTNL building in Mumbai

PTI Mumbai | Updated on July 23, 2019 Published on July 23, 2019

Fire fighters douse fire that broke out at MTNL office building at Bandra, in Mumbai on Monday.   -  PTI

Massive fire broke out at the building on Monday evening

Cooling operations are still underway at the MTNL building in suburban Bandra where a massive fire broke out on Monday, an official said.

The third, fourth and fifth floors of the nine-storey building were the worst affected due to the blaze, Mumbai fire brigade chief P S Rahangdale told PTI on Tuesday. “Though the fire was brought under control on Monday evening, the cooling operations are still underway to ward off the smoke and eliminate any chances of a blaze,” he said.

The fire broke out at the building, which houses state-run telecom company MTNL, on Monday afternoon and up to 100 people, 84 of them stranded on its terrace, were rescued in one of the biggest operations in recent times, he said. Over two dozen machines and equipment, including fire engines, special hydraulic ladders, jumbo water tankers, robofire (a robot), rescue van and breathing set vans, were used for the rescue operation that lasted for several hours, Rahangdale said.

About 150 officers and men were involved in the operation, Rahangdale said, adding that nearly 160 breathing apparatus sets were used. “It was quite satisfying to see our personnel working so hard, beyond the call of duty, to save lives. Our men showed immense bravery and presence of mind while marching into the fire-hit building where the temperature was over 800 degree Celsius coupled with poisonous gases,” he said. “I am happy to see that everything went well during the rescue operation,” the official said.

What happened on Monday evening

A massive fire broke out on Monday in MTNL building here, trapping 84 people on the terrace of the nine-storey structure, all of whom were later rescued by fire brigade personnel in one of the biggest operations in recent times, officials said. The blaze started at around 3 pm at the building and all those stranded were rescued by the evening, they said.

Mumbai fire brigade chief P S Rahangdale said all those present in the building have been accounted for and as per MTNL authorities, no one is missing, “but our search operation and firefighting is on.”

Sagar Salve, a fireman, inhaled smoke during firefighting operation, following which he was admitted to Bhabha Hospital, another official said, adding that he is stable and out of danger.

A search was on to find out if anyone was still trapped on the blaze-hit third, fourth, fifth and also other floors of the telephone exchange building, which incidentally, is located near a fire brigade centre, the official said. Armed with searchlights, other equipment and donning fire protection suits, fire brigade personnel searched these floors, the official said.

For the first time, a newly-introduced robot, Robofire, remotely controlled by an operator, was used to control the blaze, he said. Asked why the robot deployed at the site did not perform as expected, he said it did a “satisfactory” job. “The robot’s job was quite satisfactory. Its handler did not get enough space to manoeuvre it,” he added.

As it was a working day, many persons, mostly employees of the state-run telecom firm, were present inside the building, he said. As the fire started on the third and fourth floors, panic-stricken people began running out of the building. People who were on upper floors went to the terrace to save themselves, the official said.

Due to strong winds and thick smoke billowing out of the building, fire brigade personnel faced difficulties in dousing the flames, he said, some nearby buildings were also affected. People trapped on the terrace were seen screaming and frantically seeking help as they used handkerchiefs to avoid inhalation of smoke. The cause of the fire was not yet known

“We came down from the fifth floor via lift. We saw fire brigade personnel bringing out some people from a smoke-filled floor,” a woman said. Another woman, who also managed to come out of the building, said, “When we came to know of the fire, we searched for the staircase, which had become partially invisible due to heavy smoke. We had closed the windows and doors of our office. Fire brigade people came and rescued us,” she said.

There were still six to seven persons on the floor from where she was rescued, the woman added. A woman, who was rescued using an aerial ladder, was seen filming the scene on her mobile phone even as she was being lowered to the ground. Visuals on TV showed smoke billowing from the building and people on the terrace trying to signal those below.

Opposition Congress hit out at the local civic body over the MTNL building fire and last week’s building collapse in Dongri, where 13 people were killed, alleging corruption in the functioning of the Shiv Sena-ruled corporation. Congress leader Ashok Chavan alleged “large-scale corruption” in fire and structural audits of buildings in the metropolis and asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to own up its “mismanagement”.

Chavan said according to reports, the fire audit of the nine-storey structure was done just last year. “If this is true, people need to know why the fire brigade had difficulty in rescuing those trapped,” he said.

State Congress president Balasaheb Thorat said the “corrupt” civic administration has made Mumbai a city of accidents where innocent people have lost their lives. Meanwhile, Education Minister Ashish Shelar, the BJP MLA in whose constituency Bandra is located, demanded an inquiry into the MTNL building fire.

Earlier fire incidents in Mumbai

The incident comes a day after one person died and two others were injured in a fire in a four-storey residential building located behind the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in south Mumbai.

Monday’s blaze is the latest in a series of fire incidents in the metropolis in the last few years. There have been more than 49,000 fire incidents in Mumbai in the last one decade, killing over 600 people, the Maharashtra government had told the assembly in November 2018.

A massive fire in two pubs located in the Kamala Mills Compound here had claimed 14 lives on December 29, 2017. Besides, 12 people were killed in a blaze at a snack shop in Saki Naka-Kurla area on December 18, 2017.

Published on July 23, 2019

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