Fourteen people were injured and around 60 others rescued in a major fire that broke out in the 21-storey Western Railway Officers’quarters, adjacent to the Mumbai Central railway station on Monday. The fire, which broke out around 11.30 am in the staircase of the building, filled the common passageways and the staircase with dense smoke.
After receiving an emergency call at 11.42 am, the Mumbai fire brigade dispatched eight fire engines, two special appliance vehicles, eight water tankers and nine ambulances. After more than four hours of fire-fighting and rescue operations, the fire was completely doused at 4 pm. Authorities at the BYL Nair Hospital and the Jagjivan Ram hospital, where the injured were admitted, said four people suffered minor burns, while the rest were treated for asphyxiation.
Fire officials said the fire originated in a service duct located in the shaft of the staircase. The cause of the fire, however, is yet to be ascertained. Residents of the quarters, which have 42 flats and an attached outhouse on each floor, said they were left helpless as thick smoke blinded them, making it impossible for them to escape.
“My family saw smoke coming into the house and we immediately ran for the stairs,” said Alka Srivastav, resident of the twentieth floor. “But there was so much smoke that I started to suffocate. We managed to run up to the terrace, but the fire was raging in the elevator shaft there. So we returned to our own flats.”
In their inspection following the blaze, fire brigade officials observed several safety lapses in the building, and are likely to send a notice to the Western Railways. None of the fire extinguishers, sprinklers or the riser system in the building were in working condition, said fire officials. “The mandatory six-monthly fire safety audit was not conducted by owners. We will take action as per the provisions of the law,” said PS Rahangale, deputy chief fire officer.
According to section 3 (3) of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, a six-monthly compliance certificate is to be submitted in January and June every year to the fire brigade by the owner or the occupants of every building. “The burns sustained by the patients are not severe. Because of smoke, most them have respiratory distress, and we will keep them under observation for a couple of days,” Dr Ramesh Bharmal, dean of the hospital.