Mumbai, Aug. 14: When Mumbai was under siege in November 2008, he rescued hundreds trapped inside the Taj and Oberoi-Trident Hotels. Last night, as the INS Sindhurakshak was burning, his presence of mind ensured the flames didn’t gut another submarine berthed 10-15 feet away.
Prabhat Rahangdale, the deputy fire officer of Mumbai Fire Brigade, was leaving Radio Club in south Mumbai after having dinner with friends when he heard two loud explosions and spotted a ball of fire at the naval dockyard near the Gateway of India. The Gateway of India and the Taj hotel are located at one end of the waterfront, while Radio Club is located at the other end.
“It was around midnight when I heard two explosions. My experience told me this was a major incident, so I immediately called up the control room, and alerted my senior, chief fire officer Suhas Joshi. An SOS was issued, and maximum resources of the fire brigade were deployed immediately,” Rahangdale, 49, told The Telegraph this evening.
Within minutes, Rahangdale, who had the day off from work, was at the naval dockyard. “When I reached there, I saw that the INS Sindhurakshak was on fire, but due to radiation, another submarine, the INS Sindhuratna, berthed 10-15 feet away, was also partially on fire. So, while trying to contain the fire of the first submarine, we simultaneously tried to prevent the fire from spreading to the second one,” he said.
“Using water cannons and jets, we created a sort of a water curtain or a wall of water between the submarines to ensure the Sindhuratna is protected. The strategy worked, and within 45 minutes, the naval teams towed away the second submarine to safety. The fire operation on the Sindhurakshak continued for close to three hours,” Rahangdale said.
The Mumbai Fire Brigade deployed 16 fire engines and dozens of water tankers to assist the navy fire brigade. The Mumbai Port Trust’s fire brigade was also on the spot. A total of about 108 men were engaged in the operation, fire brigade sources said.
It was a different kind of challenge from the 26/11 attacks. “In a normal fire, danger is always lurking. But when you have ammunition and equipment on board a ship, we are working within the radius of danger. Fortunately, there was so much back-up available. There was enough water supply and no dearth of resources as we co-ordinated the operation with the navy and Mumbai Port Trust teams,” Rahangdale said.
Admiral D.K. Joshi, the navy chief, said the flames from the INS Sindhurakshak touched the outer casing of the INS Sindhuratna, but the vessel was quickly taken to safety without any major damage.
Rahangdale and his team had rescued 120 guests trapped in the fire that raged in the Oberoi-Trident hotel lobby on the night of November 26, 2008. Next, they moved to the Taj hotel to contain the fire on the dome. By 11 the next morning, they rescued 200 more people.
The officer also served during the 1992-93 riots, 1993 serial blasts and the 2006 train bombings.