Prabhadevi fire: Building’s fire safety system averted disaster
The top three floors of the 33-storey building’s B-wing were gutted in a blaze on Wednesdaymumbai Updated: Jun 15, 2018 01:06 IST
The eight-hour fire-fighting operation at the posh BeauMonde Towers in Prabhadevi on Wednesday revealed not only the limitations of the fire brigade’s mechanisms to control a blaze in a Mumbai high-rise,
but also showed how dependent the fire brigade will be on an efficient inbuilt fire-fighting system in such skyscrapers that are rapidly becoming the norm in the city.
The top three floors of the 33-storey building’s B-wing were gutted in a blaze on Wednesday. If the high-rise’s internal fire safety system was not in place, the scale and destruction would have been far greater.
While fire officials said a two-storey podium at the base of the tower came in the way of operations — they could not use their 91-metre turntable ladder — residents and staff of the building said the fire brigade had tested its heaviest equipment on the podium before issuing a fire clearance in 2005. The wing was surrounded by a podium, which has a driveway around the building, a garden, sitting area, swimming pool, and a play area for children in the front.
Fire officials said they could not use the turntable ladder as the podium got in the way, and there was just enough space for a car to drive through. As the ladder weighed 50 tonnes, the fire brigade was unsure if the podium could take the weight.
But this exposes a larger issue about fire safety in such buildings, as a majority of high-rises in the city have similar podiums with landscaped gardens and parking areas. In the past few years, more and more skyscrapers are coming up across Mumbai city.
Chief Fire Officer P Rahangdale said the only solution, when accessing the higher floors is a challenge, is to rely on the internal system of the building. Across the world, firefighting agencies rely on the building’s internal fire safety system to fight fires in high rises, he said.
“It is increasingly even more important to have a sound internal safety system. The access area to the building needs to be cleared, and large open spaces immediately around the skyscrapers need to be maintained. If BeauMonde’s fire safety system was not working, we were looking at a larger tragedy,” Rahangdale said.
The highest ladder in any country’s fire brigde is 112 metres. Mumbai cannot use that as its roads are narrow and not strong enough to take the weight of the vehicle carrying such a ladder. Further, structural constraints of buildings, such as an underground parking, leaves no frim floor structures to support such vehicles.
A senior official of the fire brigade, who was part of the fire-fighting operations, said, “The ladder could not be taken close enough to clearly access the building because of the podium. We could not mount the ladder on the podium as it cannot support its weight, and because there is no space on the podium to accommodate such a huge vehicle.”
However, a staff member of the building, who did not want to be named, pointed out, “When BeauMonde tower was constructed, the fire brigade tested their heavy vehicles on the podium. A big fire engine was brought to the podium; it entered and exited through the back gate, which was built as a fire exit.’’
A resident of the B wing said, “Ponds and flower pots decorate the front access way because there is a special back gate for the fire brigade. That gate gives them clear access to the podium. It is only after this fire that the officials expressed there was a difficulty in accessing the podium.”
The rear of the podium accommodated two water tankers at a time, which supplied water to the building’s riser system — the fire-fighting equipment. But the ladder needed to be parked in front of the building, to access the fire the top floor, a fire official said.
R Chaudhari, deputy chief fire officer said, “Even after the fire brigade tested the podium with its equipment and gave an NOC, it is the duty of the building to keep the podium free. In this case that was not done.’
Rahangdale said, “The podium has no space for a large and wide vehicle to drive on it. There is so much construction on the surface that needs to be cleared.”