Lack of coordination between the fire and disaster management departments – the first to respond during emergencies – and absence of senior fire officials on site were the two major obstacles that made controlling the blaze at Gokul Niwas in Kalbadevi difficult, stated a seven-member panel report.
The detailed 32-page inquiry committee report, submitted to civic chief Ajoy Mehta on Tuesday, highlighted several loopholes which question the city’s fire-fighting as well as disaster management apparatus. For instance, five of the seven senior fire officials were not present at the site despite a brigade call. Also, two senior fire officials on the job were stuck in the debris, which hampered fire-fighting operations for nearly an hour.
According to the report, staff crunch further aggravated the situation. One of the seven posts of deputy chief officers has been vacant for years.
Of the six, two senior officers – PS Rahangdale and KV Hiwrale – were on leave, while a third senior officer – Shashikant Kale – has been suspended from the department and the fourth senior officer – AN Verma – has been on medical leave for more than six months. Hence, chief fire officer Sunil Nesarikar and deputy fire officer Sudhir Amin were the only two senior officers at the site. When Nesarikar and Amin were trapped in the building, there was senior officer to control the firefighting operation, which shifted the focus of the firemen.
Sanjay Mukherjee, additional municipal commissioner in charge of the report, said, “We are in the process of recruiting more staff to resolve the staff crunch issue.”
The report has also suggested recommendations to enhance future fire-fighting operations. For instance, it suggested setting up of a separate cell to give no-objection certificates (NOCs) for new constructions so that the firemen focus on handling emergencies instead of doing administrative work and revamping the standard operating procedure in the next three months to be drafted following the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) norms, include some of the suggestions made.
“The committee’s recommendations will be implemented. The department will buy more fire safety equipment,” said Mukherjee.
For better coordination, especially during major incidents, the panel has suggested the presence of a representative from the BMC’s PR department at the spot and in the control room. “There was no mechanism available to broadcast accurate information. Despite the availability of a hotline number, communication was hampered,” said the report.