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Friday, July 18, 2008

Fire at Lower Parel office disrupts Airtel services

Two of Airtel's servers were damaged after fire from basement of Peninsula Chambers spreads to its office on first floor


Services of cellphone operator Airtel were disrupted after two of its servers located in Peninsula Chambers at Peninsula Corporate Park, Lower Parel, was damaged in a major fire that broke out at the business plaza early Friday morning.
    A power transformer located in the basement of the building exploded and the fire spread to a portion of the first and second floor of Peninsula Chambers, the business plaza which houses several corporate offices including Airtel. Nobody was hurt in the fire. Airtel services in south Mumbai were disrupted due to the server damage. According to sources, the server at Peninsula Chambers catered to Airtel's cell operations from Andheri to south Mumbai. The company is making frantic efforts to shift the operational load to Airtel's server in Mahape to normalise operations.
    According to eyewitnesses, a spark in the transformers led to a fire at 8.15 am on Friday. According to the fire brigade, the fire then spread to the first and second floors of the building. The transformer was kept in the basement of the building, and the fire spread to the switch gear and cables.
    A security person who noticed the fire called the fire brigade which reached within minutes. According to P D Kargupikkar, deputy chief fire officer, there was a thick blanket of black smoke in the basement which hindered the fire-fighting operation to some extent. Eight fire engines, five water tankers, two ambulances and one breathing apparatus had to be called in to tackle the fire. While investigations are on about the cause of the fire, Kargupikkar said that the entire electric cabling and
panel in the basement of the building were destroyed. When asked what could be the cause of teh fire, "Overheating of the transformer, as also some spark in the switch gear, could be possible causes. We will have to investigate into who the last person to leave the premises last night, and whether that person had switched off the necessary switches." Although fire officials are convinced that fire-fighting measures were not maintained in the building, officials from Peninsula Corporate Park denied the allegation. "We had everything in place. The fire could not have broken out due to nonmaintenance," said an officer from Peninsula Corporate Park.
The fire department says there were no fire-fighting measures in place at Peninsula Chambers. According to PD Kargupikkar, deputy fire chief officer, "When tried to enter the basement but had to leave immediately because of the thick smoke accumulated inside as there was no air vent. We had to then break the glass panels to get to the parking lot. Worse still, we could not get into the basement area after that as glass pieces were scattered everywhere."
    "There is no proper ventilation in modern day buildings. The whole concept of windows is lost behind glass. Nowadays, buildings with a large area have just one stairway in the centre, as opposed to two stairways in two diagonally opposite areas. Such planning is a hindrance to fire fighting," he added.
    In fact, the emergency exit to the transformer which opens through a hydraulic motor jack, could not be opened as the motor failed due to power failure.
The fire brigade had to then force open the door and thrust huge exhaust pipes to extinguish the smoke in the basement.
    "We also saw that there were no sprinklers in the basement. It is essential that there be sprinklers in areas of over 200 square metres," Kargupikkar said.
    He added, "Any large area exceeding 750 square metres should have fusible link doors. The doors in the basement were not strategically placed, which rendered them useless. Besides, there was no provision to have them automated to shut as soon as there was any fire alarm."
There was complete confusion among Airtel users on Friday after they were abruptly disconnected from the network due to the fire at Peninsula Chambers.

    Anish B, an Airtel subscriber from Dadar, said, "I was unaware of the fire. All morning I was wondering what could have caused this abrupt disconnection of services. I contacted other Airtel users on their landline phones and they confirmed they were facing the same problem."
    Santosh Manjrekar (VT), another Airtel subscriber, said, "The network has been down since morning and the breakdown of the network made it a bit inconvenient for Airtel users." A spokesperson from Airtel said that it would take some time, maybe even 8 to 10 days to restore services completely.
    Technical contractors with Airtel said that the Lower Parel server load is slowly being diverted to other Airtel stations at Mahape and Malad that serve the Thane region and western suburbs respectively.
    — With inputs from Alpita

Above: The entire electric cabling and panel in the basement of Peninsula Chambers was destroyed. Inset: People had to be evacuated


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