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Friday, June 7, 2013

Killer blaze sparked by AC short-circuit

Andheri Bldg Disregarded Safety Rules, Say Officials

    Four people died and at least nine were injured in a fire that broke out in the back-end office of a bank in Andheri on Thursday night. 
    The blaze erupted at the eight-storey IBL House in MIDC due to a short-circuit in an air-conditioner compressor, said fire officials. While not large, it spewed thick smoke that quickly saturated the building, causing the fatalities. 
    What also contributed to the tragedy, said fire officials, was the disregard of fire safety rules and recommendations at the structure. 
They observed that the construction had a fire-fighting system—sprinklers, hosepipes connected to tanks, fire extinguishers—but not functional; also, its seventh and eighth floors had been converted into a "dome-like structure" that reduced ventilation, trapping the smoke inside. It did not help that the building, a back-end office of IndusInd Bank, had a glass facade, which too limited ventilation. 
    Hospital reports revealed that all four deaths were caused by asphyxiation, although two of the deceased had sustained light burns on face and arms. Fire officials said they will issue a prosecution notice to the building owner under the Maharashtra Fire Safety and Prevention Act. The MIDC police, which have registered a case of accident at present, said they will wait for "technical" reports, including of 
the fire brigade, before filing a first information report. 
    The fire is said to have started around 11.15pm on Thursday, when 50 nightshift employees were working in the building. "Immediately after the blaze broke out, the fire alarm went off. But the alarm was not taken seriously and switched off," said senior inspector S L Hujband of MIDC police. "A security guard on the ground floor decided to take a look around the building. On reaching the first floor, he noticed the fire." 
    The blaze, said fire officials, started due to a shortcircuit in an air-conditioner on the first floor. It perhaps went unnoticed initially because the first floor had emptied for the day. 

    In no time, the smoke from the fire filled the eightstorey building. Around 11.45pm, the power went out. In the dark, frightened people ran for the stairs. Those on lower storeys rushed up. And, in panic, many employees on upper floors scrambl e d d ow n — wh e re t h e smoke was thickest. 

    The fire brigade and police, which received an alert at 11.39pm, reached around 11.50pm. "Using fire engine ladders to climb up, firemen broke portions of the glass facade. This released the smoke and created escape routes for the trapped people," said a police officer. 
    The blaze was completely doused in less than an hour. And by 1.30am-2am on Friday, fire officials had rescued those stuck inside. During a search of the building, they discovered four bodies on the stairs next to the first and third floors. The four
men were declared dead on arrival at hospital. They were identified as Atanu Laha (26), Rakesh Shiskar (27), Rohan Tatkare (25) and Sandeep Naik (25). The bodies were handed to their families after autopsies at Cooper Hospital. 
    Nine people were injured in the tragedy, mainly due to inhalation of smoke. 
    Police officers said it appeared the building had only point for entry and exit. "This might have been a factor in the chaos. Many people tried to break windows, but failed because of the film 
on them," said an officer. 
    A bank spokesperson said, "It was an unfortunate incident. The bank has lent its full support to the families of those who died and has been at their side. We will do everything possible for those who lost their dear ones." Asked if the firefighting equipment in the building was not functioning, the spokesperson said he was not aware of that. "We have to wait for the fire report. We have been running around hospitals to look after the injured staff members," he added. 

A fire at an eight-storey Andheri building, which houses a bank's back-end office, resulted in four deaths on Thursday night:

A fire alarm goes off at the building at 11.15pm, but is switched off in the belief that it is a false alarm. A security guard decides to run a check. On the first floor, which had emptied for the day, he runs up against a blaze

In no time, smoke spreads to all floors. The fire brigade is alerted. At 11.45pm, the building power goes out

Panic-stricken people take to the stairs. Those on upper floors rush down and employees on lower storeys scramble up

Firemen and police arrive around 11.50pm. Portions of the glass facade are broken to evacuate people and release the smoke. The fire is doused in 45 mins. Four people are found dead, from asphyxiation, on the stairs of lower floors


Rohan Tatkare | 25 
After his father died two years ago, Tatkare took on the duty of supporting his family. He was pursuing a PG diploma in management to rise in his career. His mother awaited his return every night so that they could have dinner together. On Friday morning, her calls went unanswered

Rakesh Shiskar | 27 
He had resumed work after a holiday in Chiplun and his parents were about to search for a bride for him

Sandeep Naik | 25 
The sole breadwinner in the family, he had joined the bank less than two years ago. Naik lived in a chawl in Tunga village, Powai, along with his younger brother and sister. His parents have not been informed so far of the youth's death

Atanu Laha | 26 
He is survived by his parents, an elder brother and sister-in-law. Samadhan Chorghade, his friend, survived the blaze 
Pics: Sanjay Hadkar and Kaushik Nai

A number of fire safety rules and recommendations were ignored at IBL House, maintain fire brigade officials: 
Elements of the fire-fighting system, such as sprinklers, hosepipes connected to water tanks and fire extinguishers, were not functioning 
    Every high-rise (building of more than seven floors) must conduct a fire safety audit twice a year and submit reports to the fire brigade office. The Andheri building's owner had not 
    The construction has one gate for entry and exit, whereas the fire brigade generally insists on two for easier evacuation in emergency 
    The seventh and eighth floors were converted into a 'dome-like structure, due to which building ventilation got reduced'


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