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Friday, March 11, 2011

Poor safety measures sparked Andheri fire

At a recent society meeting to discuss a money-spinning mobile tower, residents had asked management to modernise the fire-fighting equipment in the 17-storey building

Reluctance shown by members of an Andheri (W) high rise in spending Rs 5,000 to replace a faulty switch of the building's firefighting system cost them crores — and nearly their lives — on Thursday. A fire broke out in 17-storey Kanchan Ganga Cooperative Housing Society at 11.30 am on JP Road, gutting a flat and damaging at least five others.
    Three women were injured in the incident, and property worth crores was ruined. Officials of the fire brigade said that the blaze was set off by a spark in a TV set in a flat on the 12th floor of the building, and quickly spread to other areas. The apartment, numbered 1201-1202, is owned by Vasudev Agarwal.
    The flat located exactly above 1201-1202 also suffered severe damage. In fact, an occupant of the house, Devyani Sawant, sustained severe burn injuries. Another resident of Kanchan Ganga, Anita Agarwal, collapsed after inhaling too much smoke. The third woman who was affected is Shanta Naik, a house help who has been working there for several years.
    Though the blaze erupted at 11.30 am, the fire brigade reached the spot at 12.40 pm, more than an hour later. Authorities said firefighters received the distress call only at 12.24, and they got stuck in traffic on JP Road, which has literally shrunk because of the work on metro rail. What compounded their problems was the building's poor fire safety system.
    Officials of the fire brigade, which doused the blaze by 4.30 pm, said that a notice would be issued to the chairman and secretary of the society for not fixing its defective fire safety equipment. The notice, they said, would be served under the provisions of the Fire Act 2005 that was implemented last year.
    "The firefighting system of the building was not functioning. Had it been in a working condition, residents could have prevented the fire from spreading," Chief Fire Officer Uday Tatkare, who handled Thursday's operation, said. Several Kanchan Ganga residents also blamed the management for its laxity. They said that had complained about the system countless times, but to little avail.
    "We have lost so much just because a few people didn't give importance to fixing firefighting equipment," a resident, Astaar Sheikh, said. "At a recent general body meeting, they talked about allowing installation of a mobile tower to get additional funds. The issue of fire safety was raised, but they didn't pay heed."
    People living on and below the 12th floor - where the flames were most intense - rushed to the ground floor, whereas those living above took refuge on the terrace. The latter were rescued by firemen. "We didn't want to take any risks as the flames were gradually engulfing higher floors," a senior fire officer said.

Firefighters could not reach the building quickly as they got stuck in traffic on JP Road, where the work on metro rail is underway. They said that the road was narrow at several points. Residents criticised authorities for not creating arrangements for emergency vehicles. WORK ON METRO SLOWS DOWN FIREMEN

Cars parked in the building compound also proved to be major hurdles for firemen. With little space left, they could not position the fire engine with a mounted ladder properly. Traffic cops were asked to bring towing vans to the spot to remove vehicles.

Firemen got little help from security guards, who knew little about the building or firefighting system installed there. Officials said that in case of such emergencies, firemen depend on inputs from guards such as the number of flats and residents.

The building has no fire refuge area as it was built before 1991. However, it doesn't have updated fire-fighting equipment either. "This is a posh society, but the fire-fighting equipment is outdated. They should have had basic measures in place," a fire officer said.

The fire in Kanchanganga started on the 12th floor before spreading to the 13th


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