Mumbai: Calls to fireside brigade drop to lowest in nearly a decade

MUMBAI: While the city reported major blazes and building crashes that claimed scores of lives in 2017-18, the total number of distress calls to the was the lowest in nearly a decade. The fire brigade received 15,361 calls last year, down from 15,704 in 2016-17 and 17,020 the year before.

However, the number of calls about house collapse has gone up by nearly 40% in the last two years— from 242 in 2015-16 to 334 last year. In 2016-17, the city reported as many as 314 calls about house collapse. Last July, 17 people lost their lives when four-story Siddhi Sai Apartments in Ghatkopar (w) crashed, while the very next month, 33 people were killed as 117-year-old Hussain building crashed in Pakmodia street.

Last financial year also saw major fires in the city, including a major blaze at two eateries in , which killed 14 people. There were also major fires at Garib Nagar slum near Bandra railway station in which 300 shanties were charred, and a blaze at in Chembur, which left the famous structure severely damaged. In fact, the first few weeks of January saw a fire almost every other day. And in the early hours of January 4, four of a five-member family died after a fire broke out in their flat in Maimoon Manzil building in Marol. However, the total number of calls about fire went down by 2% compared to 2016-17, and nearly 8% if one compares with 2015-16.

According to brigade’s records, the number of calls attended to by the fire brigade went down in the last two years (2016-18) compared to the previous seven years. It was in 2008-09, that the fire brigade received 15,167 calls, after which the numbers went on rising.

However, activists are sceptical about the fire brigade’s statistics. Bandra based activist and trustee of the NGO AGNI Shyama Kulkarni said, “We have been reading news about some blaze or another almost every day, so it’s very difficult to believe that the number of fire calls has reduced. The statistics doesn’t seem to be matching with the ground reality.”

Asked about this, chief fire officer PS Rahangdale attributed this drop in the total number of calls to an overall systematic planning by the force. “We have ensured upgrade of our force in a way wherein manpower skills has been further sharpened. Technologically we are upgrading ourselves through our command and control centre which is in the making. We are also preparing ourselves for future challenges like purchasing the right fire fighting equipment, like fire-fighting robot or a vehicle to deal with chemical explosions. In fact, fires like that at Kamala Mills were like an eye opener for many and awareness for taking the right fire safety measures have grown,” Rahangdale said, adding that being such a complex city, there are still many challenges the city faces.

One of the major issues that keep the force on its toes is calls to rescue people stuck in danger. Last year, the forced received 5,324 such calls— or over 14 per day. And then there are also other distress calls, such as about animals or birds stuck in a tree or a building edge: they are not minor because fire department received 4,835 such calls last year— 30% of the total calls it received last year.

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