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Monday, October 19, 2009

Emergency lift becomes a death trap

The 6 Deceased Had 20 Years Of Fire-Fighting Experience

Thane: It was a bleak Diwali for the families and colleagues of the six firemen who died of suffocation and burn injuries after being trapped in the elevator of Punarvasu Building in the posh Tarangan Complex, Thane, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Even as mourners paid their final respects at the memorial service held on Sunday on the grounds of Wagle Estate fire station, the mood was grim. What caused the fire lift to malfunction? The six firemen — they were no rookies — who rushed to the building at 4.30 am on Sunday were unable to reach the blaze that had engulfed Flat 144 on the top-most fourteenth floor, as the steel doors of the fire lift failed to open. 

    In fact, this was the second call to the fire brigade from the same flat in less than five hours. The first alarm was sounded around 11.30 pm on October 17, after neighbours reported a fire that seemed to have started from the bedroom of the owner, Ravindra Kulkarni's empty flat. 
    Pramod Goel, who alerted the Wagle Estate fire station the first time, said: "The firemen arrived in minutes with water tankers and by 1 am, they left after extinguishing it.'' Some smouldering flames may have been reignited, said a senior fire official on condition of anonymity. He added that a strong breeze could have been the catalyst. 
    "The second fire was big. Residents began to evacuate the building immediately. The fire brigade arrived around 4.30 am, and one team took the elevator to reach the 14th floor,'' said resident Madhurima Rajendra Sawale. 
    Fire officials were loath to talk about the malfunction of the lift and are waiting for the enquiry report. It took us more than six hours to get the fire under control, and the toxic — from the burnt furniture and upholstery — had engulfed the entire floor, possibly resulting in the lift to malfunction, chief fire officer of Thane Vijay Vaidya told TOI. "There was total chaos. One team, that had taken the stairs, had to battle heavy smoke and flames on the thirteenth floor. 
It was only after 30 minutes of intense fire fighting that my men were able to reach the fourteenth floor. We broke down the lift door, but by then, all my six men had died of burns and toxic carbon monoxide,'' said Vaidya. These six men had more than 20 years of experience behind them. 
    Vaidya said the cause of the first fire was a cracker, but refused to elaborate on the second blaze. "The first fire at 11.30 pm was due to a fire cracker. The plastic in the balcony had caught fire; the flames reached the curtains and the wooden bed. But our team arrived in the nick of 
time and the situation was brought under control by 1 am,'' he said. 
    He overruled negligence as the cause of the second fire. "J C Singh had led the team at 11.30 pm and had successfully controlled the fire. Probably, 
they miscalculated the scope of the fire when they approached the flat via the lift the second time,'' he said, adding that if his men had been aware of the magnitude of the situation, they would have halted the elevator on the twelfth or thirteenth floor. 
    The Thane Municipal Corporation has announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the relatives of the deceased and also a permanent job. The state government has announced Rs 2 lakh compensation to the
next of kin. The three other flats on the floor escaped with minor damages. Their entry doors were gutted because of the intensity of the flames. The owner of the flat told TOI that he was in no frame of mind to talk to the press. 
OCTOBER 17 11.15 pm: Fire is spotted in the bedroom of Flat no. 144 on the 14th floor of Punarvasu Building, Tarangan Complex 11.28 pm: Wagle Estate station is alerted by a resident 11.30 pm: The flat owner R Kulkarni who is out with his family rushes home 11.35 pm: Fire engines from Wagle Estate and Balkum fire stations rush to the building 11.40 pm: Leading fireman J C Singh and his men take the building's fire lift to reach the flat and extinguish the flames, which have partially destroyed the walls 

OCTOBER 18 1.05 am: The fire brigade team leaves the house after dousing the fire. They advise Kulkarni and the residents of the three other flats on the same floor to spend the night elsewhere 4.00 am:Huge flames engulf the same flat. All residents leave the building. Some even take the lift to reach the ground floor 4.30 am: Three fire teams rush to the spot. While Singh, along with five of his firemen, take the lift to the 14th floor, one team uses the stairs and the other reaches the terrace of the adjoining building 4.40 am:Firemen who take the stairs battle a wall of smoke on the 13th floor 5.10 am: They reach the 14th floor only to realise that their colleagues are trapped in the lift. They break open the doors of the elevator, but find the six firemen dead 10.30 am: Fire is extinguished 
Fireman incoherent after tragedy 
Unable to bear the shock of losing his friends and close colleagues in the fire at Tarangan Complex on Sunday, a grief-stricken fireman, Muneer Mulla, has been hospitalised for "disorderly behaviour". It is learnt that Mulla (44), a fireman from the Wagle Estate fire station, was present at the spot on Sunday and was assigned the duty of releasing water from the tankers. However, upon seeing the charred and lifeless bodies of his six colleagues, Mulla went into sudden shock, said eye-witnesses. According to them, the fireman began making incoherent statements and "seemed unstable". He has been moved to the Kalwa Civic Hospital, where he has been confined to a room, said sources. 

    Inquiry into malfunction of lift 
State fire officials said on Monday that the six firemen who were killed while attempting to reach the blaze on the fourteenth floor of Punarvasu building had not erred in using the fire lift. "They had used the fire lift of the building, which is meant for firemen during any emergency. However, what remains to be seen is whether or not the elevator meant for such situations was built according to specifications and designs," said M V Deshmukh, a senior state government official. He said that a fire lift should be manually operated and should have a 24-volt power supply from a separate service in case of power shutdown. "Also, the lift is automatically grounded and the doors open if the power supply to it trips. An inquiry will reveal all of this," Deshmukh said. 
A senior state department official said the tragedy calls for implementation of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, which lays down rules for a six-monthly audit of elevators. The auditors will certify the fitness of the lifts twice a year and submit their findings to officials. The fire lift used by the six men should have had a 24-volt power supply from a separate service. "In such lifts, the doors open up if the power supply to it trips," said the official.

The 41-year-old was the youngest of the firemen who died in the elevator. He is survived by his wife and a 10-year-old daughter

    J C SINGH 
The 56-year-old had put in 30 years of service. He was due for retirement in 2011. His last rites were performed by his son who arrived from Dehli on Monday

The 43-year-old was from the 1989 batch. He was an experienced fire fighter and would always lead the team from the front

Like his deceased colleague, K Patil, Jamadar was from the 1994 batch, and would often lead the team. He is survived by his wife and two children

    J J KALE 
The 44-year-old Kale volunteered to go with the team to the building. He is survived by his wife and three school-going children

The 45-year-old fireman is survived by his wife and three children. He had joined the TMC fire services in 1994, and had many years of experience

TRAGIC WEEKEND: The 14th floor flat of Punarvasu Building in Tarangan Complex, Thane, caught fire

THE AFTERMATH: The doors of the three other apartments on the floor were destroyed

IN MEMORIAM: Residents and officials honour the six firemen who died in the Thane blaze. The 14th floor apartment in the upmarket complex was gutted completely. The first blaze was extinguished at around 1am on October 19, but the flat caught fire again at 4 am


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