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HPCL ‘fire’ prepares rescuers for worst

Staff Correspondent
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Units from MRPL, MCF, BASF, Fire Service, NMPT rush in with help

Timely act:Officials taking part in a rescue operation as part of a mock drill at HPCL in Mangalore on Wednesday.— PHOTO: H.S. MANJUNATH
Timely act:Officials taking part in a rescue operation as part of a mock drill at HPCL in Mangalore on Wednesday.— PHOTO: H.S. MANJUNATH

At 11 a.m., the sun beats down on Bala village, on the outskirts of the city, where it is mid-week business as usual. But, less than a kilometre away, on the premises of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, an LPG tank has sprung a leak, and catches fire.

Thirteen workers are injured. Outside, a siren rings out warning that the situation has gone beyond control, and on cue, villagers lock their houses and wait for the buses to take them to a ‘safer’ point.

Though the fire was simulated, and worker casualties an act, the lessons from the mock drill conducted by HPCL on Wednesday could be the difference between containing the blaze and seeing it consume villages.

The drill came with the baggage of the deadliest chemical disaster in the country: the Bhopal gas tragedy, 29 years ago. December 4 is marked as the Chemical Disaster Prevention Day.

As scheduled, an LPG ‘leakage’ from a 1,400-metric-tonne gas sphere — 12 such storage units litter the campus — sparked a fire. Sprinklers on the sphere were switched on, and workers manned the hydrant and pipes outside.

The injured were shifted to the health centre set up at BASF, from where they were shifted to Srinivasa Hospital Mukka and A.J. Shetty Hospital. When the ‘fire’ became too big for the HPCL team to contain, they contacted the district administration and nearby fire units from MRPL, MCF, BASF, Karnataka Fire and Emergency Services, NMPT for help.

Meanwhile, traffic movement at the main road outside were regulated, while nearly 790 residents and workers of Bala village, MRPL Colony, Jokatte and nearby companies – which come within the calculated damage zone of 1,451 metres from the incident area — were evacuated to ‘safer zones’.

While the eight observers commended most aspects of the drill, there were a few flaws pointed out during the debriefing section.

One observer who looked into the functioning of the local control room set up at BASF commented that there seemed to be no response from district agencies such as Regional Transport Office. “When the control room called them up, the RTO person said she will connect to a different person. They responded very slowly and casually. Officials there need to be trained,” he said.

Another suggestion was to have public address systems on the campus and in villages to help with evacuation and to ensure the gravity of the situation is known.

Additional Deputy Commissioner K. Dayanand, who oversaw the drill, said the drills would be more effective if the agencies concerned were not intimated beforehand. “The fire broke out at 11 a.m., and the Home Guards were present at the village at exactly 11 a.m. ‘Zero minutes’ response time is impossible,” he said.


  • Control room got an everyday response from the RTO: ‘will put you on to another official’

  • The drills will be more effective if agencies concerned are not intimated beforehand: Dayanand


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