Firemen who went to attend to leak hospitalised after being exposed to fumes

A rescue operation went awry for a team of seven fire fighters on Monday when they inhaled chlorine. The incident occurred while they tried to shift a gas cylinder at the Junior Commissioned Officers’ (JCOs) Quarters of the Indian Army opposite Chennai Central and Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (GH).

The seven fire and rescue services personnel are in hospital now and while their condition is improving, are under 24-hour observation as they were exposed to the gas for over three hours. While R. Kaliyaperumal (58) is the station fire officer of Royapuram, P. Loganathan (26), S. Suresh Kumar (28), N. Sasikumar (20), S. Kamalakannan (53), A. Saravananbava (35) and M. Sasikumar are attached to the Esplanade fire station.

The firemen reached the spot on receiving a report of jawans, who were on duty near the entrance to the quarters, fainting after suffering from vomiting, breathlessness and heartburn. The seven-member team led by Kaliyaperumal arrived around 6.50 a.m. and traced the source of the leak to the unused chlorine cylinder inside a storeroom near an empty sump. Nearly 500 families of JCOs live in the 15-year-old quarters.

Two firefighters — Loganathan and Sasikumar — entered the room wearing oxygen masks and sprayed water to dilute the chlorine. Assuming that the leak had stopped, the duo removed their masks and began shifting the cylinder from the storeroom to a newly-built sump so that they could sink the cylinder in it and dilute the gas. However, the leak had not stopped and during the shifting, the firemen (none of whom had any safety gear on) and on-lookers also suffered breathlessness and began vomiting. Army personnel called for an ambulance and 11 persons, including four residents, were admitted to GH. The four residents of the quarters were discharged while the seven fire fighters are undergoing treatment at the hospital. “Their condition is improving but we have kept them under 24-hour observation. We are also keeping a lookout for any side effects as they inhaled the gas for more than three hours,” said a doctor at GH.

Mr. Kaliyaperumal said the leakage was due to extensive damage to the valve which was completely worn out. “The cylinder also had a couple of holes. However, the leak is likely to have begun only recently as the cylinder is still quite heavy. The cylinder weighed around 100 kilograms and was around five feet tall,” he added.

Army sources said the chlorine tank had been kept in the storeroom nearly two years ago after a new sump was built next to it. Incidentally, the quarters also houses an Army Public School for kindergarten students. The school, which has a total strength of 300 students, is closed for summer vacation and will open in June.

“This is the first time such an incident happened in the quarters. The chlorine cylinder was used to purify drinking water in the sump that was supplied to households and the school in the quarters. The incident will be investigated,” said an officer at the Area Headquarters.    A case of inhalation of poisonous gas has been filed by Chennai GH police. “We got a report regarding fire fighters being affected due to the leakage around 10.40 a.m. on Monday. The case is being investigated,” said assistant commissioner of police (Flower Bazaar), N. Kumar.  

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