Interview | Mumbai

Impossible to inspect every building: Chief Fire Officer of Mumbai Fire Brigade


Chief Fire Officer of Mumbai Fire Brigade Prabhat Rahangdale on the systemic changes in the city since the Kamala Mills fire a year ago

As the city marked one year since the tragic fire at Kamala Mills Compound on Saturday, Chief Fire Officer of Mumbai Fire Brigade and Director (I/c) of Maharashtra Fire Services Prabhat Rahangdale tells The Hindu what it takes to keep the city from burning down. Excerpts:

The Kamala Mills fire exposed serious irregularities in the building and both restaurants, despite the fact that fire officers had issued permission to the restaurants barely a few days before the fire. What systemic changes have been brought about to prevent this?

One big transformation brought about as per the Municipal Commissioner’s orders is that we do not issue NOCs any more. We directly issue compliance certificates. To give you an example, if you are given a temporary driving licence and you violate it, you will be caught only if there is an accident. That is what used to happen. To change that, we now ask for self-certification at the time of issuing permissions. This makes the owner alert and aware. Once they self-certify, we check documents and carry out inspection to verify if everything has been complied with. So, there is a double onus. Inspections are assigned as per protocol. We issue compliance certificates online now.

This process is for new establishments. What about old ones?

Old commercial establishments that have an existing fire NOC also have to comply with it. They cannot get away. Besides, under Section 4 of the Fire Act, a fire officer can carry out inspections and any hazardous object can be removed with the police’s help. In terms of residential buildings, if it does not have proper installations, we can prosecute the builder under Sections 6,7 and 8 of the Act.

What is the city doing to upgrade infrastructure?

Mumbai has 34 fire stations. In the new Development Plan, we have proposed another 24 to be made in the next six years. The one at Kandarpada will be handed over to us in six months. Land acquisition for some others is done and work will start soon. In other cases, like the Kurla fire station, we are making multi-storey fire stations. It will be similar to the one in Gowalia Tank, which used to house a single fire engine and now has four. Besides, we are getting 14 new mini fire stations and six command centres.

What about capacity building of firemen?

We are adding around 1,500 firemen and officers to our team in the next one-and-a-half years. New recruits will be given stringent training from the very first day. Existing firemen will also have to take a refresher course. We are also installing gyms in fire stations to encourage fitness.

There are complaints of poor network in highrises and certain areas. Isn’t your communication system outdated?

Traditionally, communication is done on a VHM system. But we are installing ‘repeaters’ to ensure there are no call drops. Besides, firemen will soon get ‘digital mobiles’ that use multiple channels or frequencies for better communication.

What were the challenges in dousing the fire on the plot near Aarey Colony?

Access via roads was a challenge and water was not readily available. We had to adapt using a ‘fire break’. We used beaters to douse the fire.

Mumbaikars seem to be making the same mistakes again and again during disasters…

That is why we are laying so much emphasis on awareness drives and training. We have trained 6,000 volunteers in fire safety. We will be soon starting another drive. But please understand it is not possible to inspect each and every building in Mumbai. It is not done in any developed country either. As per the Fire Act, it is the owner’s responsibility as well. It has to be a two-way process. However, we have increased filing of police complaints as per the Fire Act. This was not the norm in the past. Now, based on our complaints, the police have made several arrests, including in the Crystal Towers case.

Impossible to inspect every building: Chief Fire Officer of Mumbai Fire Brigade

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 4:14:53 AM |

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