Mumbai | A massive fire broke out on Monday in MTNL building here, trapping 84 people on the terrace of the nine-storey structure, all of whom were later rescued by fire brigade personnel in one of the biggest operations in recent times, officials said.
The blaze started at around 3 pm at the building in suburban Bandra, which houses state-run telecom company MTNL, and all those stranded were rescued by the evening, they said.
Mumbai fire brigade chief P S Rahangdale said all those present in the building have been accounted for and as per MTNL authorities, no one is missing, “but our search operation and firefighting is on”.
More than two dozen machines and equipment, including fire engines, special hydraulic ladders, jumbo water tankers, robofire (a robot), rescue van and breathing set vans, among others, were used for the operation that lasted for several hours, he said.
About 150 officers and men were involved in the operation, Rahangdale said, adding that nearly 160 breathing apparatus sets were used and up to 100 people, 84 of them stranded on the terrace, were rescued from different parts of the building.
“It was one of the biggest and successful firefighting and rescue operations in recent time in India,” he said.
Sagar Salve, a fireman, inhaled smoke during firefighting operation, following which he was admitted to Bhabha Hospital, another official said, adding that he is stable and out of danger.
A search was on to find out if anyone was still trapped on the blaze-hit third, fourth, fifth and also other floors of the telephone exchange building, which incidentally, is located near a fire brigade centre, the official said.
Armed with searchlights, other equipment and donning fire protection suits, fire brigade personnel searched these floors, the official said.
For the first time, a newly-introduced robot, Robofire, remotely controlled by an operator, was used to control the blaze, he said.
As it was a working day, many persons, mostly employees of the state-run telecom firm, were present inside the building, he said.
As the fire started on the third and fourth floors, panic-stricken people began running out of the building. People who were on upper floors went to the terrace to save themselves, the official said.
Due to strong winds and thick smoke billowing out of the building, fire brigade personnel faced difficulties in dousing the flames, he said, some nearby buildings were also affected.
People trapped on the terrace were seen screaming and frantically seeking help as they used handkerchiefs to avoid inhalation of smoke.
The cause of the fire was not yet known.
“We came down from the fifth floor via lift. We saw fire brigade personnel bringing out some people from a smoke-filled floor,” a woman said.
Another woman, who also managed to come out of the building, said, “When we came to know of the fire, we searched for the staircase, which had become partially invisible due to heavy smoke.”
“We had closed the windows and doors of our office. Fire brigade people came and rescued us,” she said.
There were still six to seven persons on the floor from where she was rescued, the woman added.
A woman, who was rescued using an aerial ladder, was seen filming the scene on her mobile phone even as she was being lowered to the ground.
Visuals on TV showed smoke billowing from the building and people on the terrace trying to signal those below.
Opposition Congress hit out at the local civic body over the MTNL building fire and last week’s building collapse in Dongri, where 13 people were killed, alleging corruption in the functioning of the Shiv Sena-ruled corporation.
Congress leader Ashok Chavan alleged “large-scale corruption” in fire and structural audits of buildings in the metropolis and asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to own up its “mismanagement”.
Chavan said according to reports, the fire audit of the nine-storey structure was done just last year.
“If this is true, people need to know why the fire brigade had difficulty in rescuing those trapped,” he said.
State Congress president Balasaheb Thorat said the “corrupt” civic administration has made Mumbai a city of accidents where innocent people have lost their lives.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ashish Shelar, the BJP MLA in whose constituency Bandra is located, demanded an inquiry into the MTNL building fire.
The incident comes a day after one person died and two others were injured in a fire in a four-storey residential building located behind the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in south Mumbai.
Monday’s blaze is the latest in a series of fire incidents in the metropolis in the last few years.
There have been more than 49,000 fire incidents in Mumbai in the last one decade, killing over 600 people, the Maharashtra government had told the assembly in November 2018.
A massive fire in two pubs located in the Kamala Mills Compound here had claimed 14 lives on December 29, 2017.
Besides, 12 people were killed in a blaze at a snack shop in Saki Naka-Kurla area on December 18, 2017.