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KARACHI: Firefighters laid the blame for a less-than-exemplary response to the blaze at the door of PNSC building’s “improper structure” fitted with faulty equipment to deal with emergencies.

Most firemen faced extreme hardship in conducting the rescue operation on Sunday as their department was not properly equipped to handle the enormous task in the multi-storied structure.

“The building did not have any emergency exit (emergency stairs) while the entrance was so congested that even two men could not make their way through it at a time,” said one of the firemen who participated in the operation.

“The lifts were off as soon as the system collapsed, so we had to use the evacuation stairs for firefighting purposes,” he added. “There were no emergency lights in the building with the result its interior plunged into darkness. The work was halted for a couple of hours because of this,” he continued.

“Normally all such buildings have eight to 10-ft broad entrance but its (PNSC’s) opening is barely of three to four feet width,” said another official of the city fire brigade department, adding, “It was a very old building but did not have proper firefighting equipment in it.”

The official told this reporter that although the building had a hydrant, it did not work because it was empty of water.

“If properly maintained, the emergency showers could resist the fire to a great extent,” he remarked.

He stated that there is always a chance of short-circuit in such buildings therefore there should be proper inspection of firefighting equipment so as to avoid big accidents. “The Karachi Building Controlling Authority (KBCA) should not give NOC to any building if it does not provide for prevention measures in its structure,” he said. “But KBCA doesn’t do this job with responsibility.”

While the building’s firefighting equipment was not workable, and the structure did not have emergency exit, compounding the problem was the fact that firefighters were themselves ill-equipped to face the challenge.

According to an official who asked not to be named, the firefighters did not even have any masks till Sunday morning and the ladder they used could not reach beyond the sixth floor. Therefore, extensions were used to reach the eleventh floor that had caught fire.

The city fire brigade vehicles had the chains with a maximum height of 100ft and so were insufficient to reach up the affected floors. In such a situation when development is taking place all round and multi-storied buildings are being raised, there should be dedicated helicopters for firefighting purposes.

On being quizzed, the chief fire officer of the city fire station said the blaze could be a result of short-circuit. However, it is yet to be confirmed.

He said that it may have happened due to the mistake of staff that remained there overnight, perhaps they forgot turning off a few switches and short-circuit occurred. He expected a nightlong operation to finally douse the flames.

“The fire spread rapidly due to the fact that wind from the direction of the sea raised it,” he stated, adding, “Nothing can be said as of now if the building can collapse. Anything can happen.” He added that acquisition of two more firefighting vehicles is in process, which could tackle blaze at a height of 150 to 160 ft. They are expected to arrive by April.

(By Farooq Baloch, The News-1, 19/02/2007)

Fire at PNSC building:

Building by the sea burns for 14 hours

KARACHI: A huge fire erupted on the top six floors of the 16-storey building of the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC), charring two floors and partially destroying four more floors.

Though no loss of life was reported, there were reports that six people had to be rescued by helicopters of the Pakistan Army and Navy. The six were employees of a private cellular phone company and their office was located on top of the PNSC building. The building is located on the Tamizuddin Khan Road near the Native Jetty Bridge.

Besides two choppers, 20 fire engines were used to bring the flames under control. Of the fire engines, 11 belonged to the city government, six were of the Pakistan Army and three were of the Pakistan Navy, while one of the two helicopters belonged to the Pakistan Navy and the other to the Pakistan Army.

The fire started at 9 am and continued throughout the day. It started on the eleventh floor and by daybreak, it had managed to engulf the remaining five floors.

The firemen had the fire under control till the time it remained on the eleventh floor, however things got out of control when it started spreading vertically towards the other floors as the hoses of the fire engines could not reach that high.

Chief Fire Officer Ehtashamuddin said that his men could reach only the tenth floor of the building and that’s when things became difficult for them once the flames jumped to the higher floors. He said that the firemen had to bring in extra hoses and attach them with a water-pumping machine in order to manage to reach tenth floor, and from there, they started gushing water onto the other floors.

Ehtashamuddin said that the length of the hose used by his men or by the other fire tenders was always 120 metres and the fire had started at a height of 150 meters. The fire officer also said that six of his men fell unconscious because of the smouldering, but claimed that they were all fine.

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