Tuesday’s early-morning fire in Maker Tower at Cuffe Parade once again brought into focus the city’s poor fire safety record. Two people died in the 25-storey building just two weeks after the fire brigade conducted surprise fire inspections at 193 building across the city and found violations in 60% of them.
According to officials, the fire brigade gets more than 18,000 disaster calls a year.
The fire brigade said it will continue such inspection drives, with a focus on high-rises. A senior fire official said, “After today’s incident, we may expedite inspections of high-rises.”
However, experts said that high-rises aren’t the only structures vulnerable to fires, and that many slums, old buildings, malls and heritage structures are veritable tinder boxes.
VB Sant, director general at the National Safety Council, said, “It is not only high-rises that face a risk – it is everywhere. Rather than brushing it aside as just another incident, we should commission studies to understand the cause. Short-circuit is a common cause of fire but what exactly goes wrong with electrical systems has to be studied.”
The fire brigade said that Tuesday’s fire did not spread as the building’s internal fire-fighting equipment such as fire alarms, hose-reels, water tanks and fire detectors were in working order. Another major fire in September, in a partly occupied residential tower at the Hiranandani Heritage complex at Kandivali, was also relatively easy to contain as its fire-fighting equipment was in good condition, officials said.
However, this is not always the case. The recent surprise inspections, conducted between September 23 and October 4, revealed that 114 of 193 buildings flouted norms and had defunct fire safety equipment.
After’s Tuesday’s fire, the city’s chief fire officer, Prabhat Rahangdale, appealed to citizens to ensure that fire-fighting equipment in their buildings was well-maintained. Under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, societies are expected to conduct fire safety audits twice a year, in January and July. Fire officials, however, have confirmed that this is rarely done.
Pratap Khargopikar, former chief fire officer, said, “In a city like Mumbai, where traffic congestion is a common, it is in people’s interest to be well-equipped. The brigade must also conduct routine inspections raise awareness among citizens.”