Wednesday’s chlorine leak at the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) premises in Sewri raises doubts on whether the city, which has many chemical and pharmaceutical factories as well as oil refineries, is equipped to handle a chemical accident.
Though chemical disasters are handled by special teams such as the National Disaster Response Force, the first line of defence is the fire brigade, with its network of fire stations across the city.
“The fire department is best equipped to handle more frequent disasters, but they have not chalked out a proper procedure to deal with chemical emergencies,” said Dr Ravi Sinha of the IIT and part of the city’s disaster risk reduction master plan.
Sinha said the department needs to establish proper procedure so that on the site, instructions and application of becomes easy.
Four staffers from the civic-run fire brigade department who were trying to control the leak at the site had to be rushed to hospital on Wednesday as they did not have adequate protective gear; they used cloth masks.
The fire department has only 100 breathing apparatus for a fleet of more than 1,500 firemen.
“The fire department is not specifically trained, but they know how to deal with a situation until the expert agency reaches the spot,” said S.S. Shinde, joint municipal commissioner, in charge of the department.
“The firemen are to do all kinds of rescue jobs, so it’s practically not possible for them to be professionally trained in everything.”
Shinde admitted that the equipment was not enough and that the city needs a special force to deal with such emergencies.
On Thursday, this point was proven once again. While the five corroded chlorine cylinders were being neutralised, there was a minor leak. Of the eight people sent to hospital, seven were firemen employed with the MbPT. It takes the total number of firefighters admitted to hospital to 24.