Defunct hydrants delayed fire-fighting operations during Saturday’s blaze in Burrabazar. The problem was compounded by an overnight suspension of water supply by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
Firemen, handicapped by dry taps, took hours to douse the blaze that engulfed the entire Ludhiana Hosiery Building. They had to bring in eight water bowsers of 18,000-litres capacity. But their efforts were fruitless as they could not find a proper entry into the building.
“We were helpless as the door of the building, facing M.G. Road, was blocked by plywood and tin,” said P.K. Biswas, fire brigade official. The group was further inconvenienced as water was not readily available. Volunteers from two NGOs joined hands with the fire brigade personnel.
“The situation worsened around 9 am due to the non-availability of water from the Mullickghat pumping station,” Biswas added.
According to Biswas, the firemen had to finally bring in water from the underground reservoir at Subodh Mullick Square and Lalbazar, nearly two-and-a-half kilometres from the spot. “This, too, was not useful as it took long for the tankers to make the trip. Traffic snarls on Central Avenue added to the problem,” he said.
After much deliberations, the firemen formed a 50-member group and managed to get inside the building through a small staircase. “If we sprayed water from outside, the building could have collapsed. The windows of the building, facing MG Road, were shut and when we went in through the main entrance, we found that the doors of the shops were also locked,” said a fire brigade official.
B.M. Sen, director, fire services, later complained that salvage operations were hampered as the hydrants were defunct. According to him, the firemen got adequate water only after 12 noon.
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, however, rubbished the claim and put the blame on the fire services department. “The ignorance of the firemen caused the delay,” he alleged. He claimed that the Mullickghat pumping station was operational on Friday night but instead of drawing water through a relay system, fire-tenders were sent to the pumping station, holding up rescue operations,” the mayor added.
In a related incident, angry residents and shop-owners heckled fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee when he went to the spot on Saturday morning.