Project Mumbai in partnership with Mumbai Fire Brigade is silently building an army of Agni rakshaks. Ashish Bhatia graduated with the new batch and came out with a fresh take into the designated roles of Men, Women and  machines in the maximum city’s fire safety chain.

Imagine working closely with the brave officers of the Mumbai Fire Brigade on their next mission and being able to save a single life! Yes, any Mumbaikar can now volunteer to train as an ‘Agni Rakshak’ or a fire marshall to contribute his or her bit to the fire safety chain of their immediate neighbourhood. Made possible by a unique citizen-led initiative from Project Mumbai, a model of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in collaboration with the Mumbai Fire Brigade, the initiative aims to build on Mumbai Fire Brigades’ vision of upskilling commoners as fire marshals. The volunteers from across the city are equipped to be the first responders and prevent the next fire breakout from turning catastrophic. Speaking on the initiative, Rupali Gohil Vaidya of Project Mumbai said, “Citizens have the potential to become fire ambassadors of their neighbourhoods and work shoulder to shoulder with the fire officers in the instance of a fire disaster.” The exercise is expected to go a long way in helping save precious lives even before the first fire responders from the nearest fire station reach the site. It is an effort to make every minute count from the time of the breakout, and an attempt to save every single life.


The training module

In one such training session, organised on the eve of the 75th Independence Day at the Borivali Regional Command Centre, the fire officials gathered, shared with those enrolled for the course, that the concept was first floated by an ex-Chief Fire Officer in 2016. Since then over 2500 fire marshals have been trained across the Byculla, Wadala and Borivali regional command centres of the Mumbai Fire Brigade. The plan is to revive the sessions that were discontinued in the pandemic with the new initiative.

On the certificate training course spread over a basic and an advanced module imparted for free to turn commoners into Agni Rakshaks, explained Vaidya, “With the knowledge of fire officers, citizens stand to gain crucial theoretical knowledge on the subject of fire including the types and degrees of fire and most importantly build self-awareness on their role in the next fire disaster that could be around the corner.” From equipping citizens to use basic equipment like the different types of fire extinguishers to taking that most crucial first step towards prevention. The interactive theoretical sessions impart valuable knowledge on fire and its types, fire handling equipment and types to be used for different fire scenarios, and the often overlooked part of people management and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be followed before calling in help from the Mumbai Fire Services hotline.

The training module also includes a counselling session to help volunteers overcome their mental blocks and fears to in turn discharge their duties to the best of their abilities with the newfound skills as an Agni Rakshak. Devika Kapoor, Counsellor, Project Mumbai took the volunteers through the different layers of coping under pressure. The theoretical sessions are followed by practical fire extinguishing exercises with volunteers tasked with dousing the real-world simulated fires laid down by the Mumbai Fire Brigade at their designated regional command centres. For instance, the mock drills were led by M.V. Sawant, Station Officer, Region III, Western. Of course, as the Agni Rakshaks earn their badge and subsequently the right to work in fire safety missions they realise that with great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility to not only keep themselves upgraded but share the knowledge to build awareness on the crucial subject of fire safety.

The responders

The roots of fire services can be traced to the period when fire services were a police function under the Government, and only handed over to the municipality as a full-time subject on April 01, 1887. Since then the brigade is known to be manned completely by Indians. What started as a basic exercise with the use of hand pumps and steam engines (Bamba) drawn by horses, fire stations (Bamba Khanas) today are well equipped with motorised special application commercial vehicles in their fleet. A total of 35 fire stations, man the 467 sq. km. area holding a dense population of over two crore citizens. The municipality, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with its sizeable budgets (~ Rs.30,000 crore per annum) has been able to ensure that the six regional command centres spread and planned across headquarter Byculla, Wadala, sub-headquarter Marol in the suburbs, Borivali, Vikhroli and Mankhurd are self-sufficient when it comes to men, women, machines and infrastructure backing the fire marshalls.

A 2500 strong force of fire personnel with 258 fire fighting vehicles are known to safeguard the city. Contrary to the perception of handling only fire safety incidents, the Mumbai Fire Brigade deals effectively with calls including and not limited to motor vehicle accidents, aircraft accidents and oil spillage to name a few automotive rescue missions. With scrappage yards, and electric vehicles added to the mix, and charging stations mushrooming all over the city, the role assumes an even greater significance than in the past. At the Borivali Regional Command Centre, the capability of men, women and machines as responders backing the newly trained fire marshals is evident.

A tour over the centre’s premises revealed the presence of MAN CLA 16.300, the newly inducted breathing apparatus van Tata 1109 Ex2, Volvo FM 500 fitted with a 4,05m Bronto Skylift F78 HLA, double cabin Tata Yodha, mobile water transportation vehicle BharatBenz 1617, and a MAN TGM 18.330 for ferrying rescue teams and apparatus. Recently, a 55-metre flexible water tower with a pumping capacity of 6000-litres per minute was commissioned into the city’s fire brigade.

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