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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lack of protective equipment hampers firemen’s efforts

Mumbai: When chief fire officer H N Muzawar stepped out to meet state officials on Saturday afternoon after hours of fighting the blaze at Manish Market, he was gasping for breath. His eyes were red and his voice had acquired a hoarse timbre after prolonged exposure to the noxious fumes. Despite the fact that Mumbai has had at least four major fires this year alone, and promises from the government to update firefighting equipment, TOI found several firemen outfitted in only basic fire gear. 

    While around 100 firemen were deployed at the scene, there were only 20 sets of breathing apparatus available. The others worked without basic equipment like face masks and protective glasses. "We don't have enough equipment ... right now, we can only provide breathing apparatus to those who are going inside the shops," said a fire officer at the main control site. 
    Muzawar denied there was any shortage of safety equipment. "It is not possible to ensure that every fireman gets safety gear, but we have enough to ensure that those who step 
into the fire are protected." 
    At the spot, several firemen were seen wearing handkerchiefs wrapped around their faces to avoid inhaling the smoke. None of the fire-fighters had protective glasses and the fumes made it difficult for them to see clearly. Fire officer Suddesh Durgawale was admitted to Nair Hospital after falling sick due to smoke inhalation. Three more officers were admitted to the hospital with minor injuries. Face masks wer handed out only after the arrival of police commissioner Arup Patnaik around 1pm, though the fire
men had arrived at the scene at 3.45am. 
    After the 26/11 terror attacks, the BMC had promised to procure the latest fire-fighting equipment, including three-layer ensembles, approved by the National Fire Protection Association, that would safeguard against explosions and flash fires. The fire department was also supposed to purchase safety gear like face masks and glasses for every fireman, in addition to acquiring remote-controlled water monitors that could fight fire from half a kilometre away. 
    "This equipment is essen
tial to ensure the safety of our men. However, due to bureaucratic delays, we haven't been able to upgrade our stock," said a fire officer who did not wish to be named. He said that while masks, glasses and even fire-proof jackets had been purchased in the past two years, they hadn't been distributed to fire stations. The BMC cut the budget of the fire department by 30% in 2011. 
    Additional municipal commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar said: "It is wrong that there isn't enough fire-fighting equipment. We have ensured that everything is in place." 

Times View 
Mumbai's fire fighters have always won laurels for their spirit and enterprise. But they seem to have got short shrift from the city administration. For one, they don't even have adequate equipment such as masks and breathing apparatus to control fire in a city that is getting congested by the day. For another, their training needs to be updated. The BMC also needs to tune up its fire-fighting strategy keeping in mind the new high-rises as well as old marketplaces.

TIME TO REFLECT: While around 100 firemen were deployed at the site, there were only 20 sets of breathing apparatus available


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