Code red: Mumbai’s fire brigade

What happens when you dial 101? We take a look at Mumbai’s firefighting squad and their amazing fire trucks whose sole purpose is to save lives.

This vehicle comes with its own soundtrack. People of a certain vintage will remember it as the strident metallic notes of a brass bell which has now been replaced with an electronic siren. The fire truck carries not just the firemen and their equipment, but hope, succour, and relief. As American author, Kurt Vonnegut rightfully said, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine”.

We have often seen this red giant truck making its way through traffic. But what really goes on in this vehicle? What happens when you dial 101? We went down to the Mumbai Fire Brigade’s HQ at Byculla to know more.

When a call comes, firemen have 60 seconds to scramble to the truck and be on their way. 60 seconds from the first call to the truck leaving the fire station. The men and the vehicles are always on alert and have to be prepared to move at a moment’s notice. Every fire truck is manned by a team of seven. A Fire Officer heads the team along with a Leading Fireman under whom are four firemen. The driver of the truck also doubles up as the operator for the various equipment in the truck. Do note that ‘fireman’ here refers to both men and women since the first female firefighters were inducted into the Mumbai Fire Brigade in 2012. Today, there are 16 female firefighters in the brigade at posts ranging from Firemen to Assistant Station Officer.

The first-response fire truck with its seven-member crew.

The Mumbai Fire Brigade, one of the finest in the country, has shown its métier time and again. During the 2008 Mumbai attacks, they faced the bullets of militants to tackle fire and rescue hotel guests. The equipment they had was old and obsolete. Even the distinctive uniform they were wearing harked back to that of the London Fire Brigade from the 1950s and offered limited protection. The Mumbai Fire Brigade is modelled after the London Fire Brigade and that’s why Mumbai firemen are the only ones in the country to wear blue, rather than the khaki adopted by most other firefighters across the country. In 2010, the city’s firefighters were given head-to-toe suits that met international standards, helmets with protective visors, in-built radios, breathing apparatus and neck shields. The plumed helmets, rubber gumboots, leather belts and brass buckles were finally consigned to history.

After years of plodding along with old and obsolete equipment, the force now boasts some of the latest and most advanced equipment in its fleet. But the biggest push towards modernisation began earlier this year, with the Mumbai Fire Brigade investing in critical new equipment and vehicles.

These lights at the fire station indicate which vehicle is needed to attend to the emergency.

What is commonly called a fire engine is the first-call or first response vehicle that is dispatched after a call is received by the control room. In firemen’s lingo it is called a Motor Pump. This is a truck that is present at every fire station in Mumbai, and one that is used for all types of calls, from fire to building collapse to bird rescue. While earlier, the backbone of the fleet came from Tata, this year it was made stronger with the introduction of 16 MAN trucks.
The MAN CLA 16.300 is powered by a 6.9-litre, six-cylinder, in-line, direct-injection diesel engine with a turbocharger and intercooler. The engine produces 300hp at 2,000rpm, and a maximum torque of 1,150Nm between 1,200-1,800rpm. Power is transferred through a six-speed automatic Allison gearbox. Think of it as a fire truck of all trades. It carries 4,500 litres of water apart from a variety of equipment like a ladder, hoses, hose fittings, hand tools, hydraulic rescue tools (cutter, spreader, ram and power pump pack), pneumatic lifting bags, thermal sensing camera, and breathing apparatus with four suit sets.

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This Rescue Van carries over 200 pieces of specialised equipment that can be used for any type of emergency.
This Mumbai Fire Brigade Jumbo Tanker, made by Mercedes-Benz, can carry up to 18,000 litres of water.
The first-response fire truck with its seven-member crew.
This pump can drive 6,000 litres of water per minute.
A view of Mumbai from 90 metres. This platform can carry up to 500kg.
The steerable first, second, third and sixth axles of the MB Actros 6260.
Turntable control of the 90-metre hydraulic platform.
These lights at the fire station indicate which vehicle is needed to attend to the emergency.
The high-tech cabin of the MB Actros 6260. Note the rear camera on this monster.
The Breathing Apparatus Van carries fire-proof suits, masks and helmets apart from air cylinders and a compressor.
The compressor in the Breathing Apparatus vehicle can refill an empty cylinder in five minutes.
The Mercedes-Benz Actros 6260, the giant of all Ladder Trucks, is 16.5-metres long and weighs 52 tonnes.
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Issue: 211 | Autocar India: March 2017

Check out our exclusive drive of the new BMW 5-series in India, and in a Porsche special, the 718 Boxster. There's also a shootout between the new Hyundai Grand i10, Maruti Ignis and the Mahindra...
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