Fire department fighting official apathy, staff shortage

  • Hillary Victor, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Mar 03, 2015 08:51 IST

Learning no lessons from the past major fire incidents, the fire and emergency services committee of the municipal corporation (MC) seems less interested in taking any concrete steps for overhaul of the department.

In 2014, the committee had held just two meetings, but no inspection of buildings was carried out. On fire-fighting, the civic body had spent just Rs 10 lakh of the budgeted Rs 12 crore in spite of the fact that the fire and emergency wing has been perennially short of staff and infrastructure.

This year, the MC has approved Rs 17 crore for the department.

In October 2013, a seven-member committee of the fire and emergency services had visited all seven fire stations of the city and made recommendations for the complete overhaul of the department. However, nothing has moved since then.

The department does not have a permanent chief fire officer for the past over 10 years, and is short of 30 leading firemen, which has hampered the rescue work operations.

In July 2014, an insurance cover of Rs 20 lakh was approved for MC's firemen in case of death during rescue operations; Rs 10 lakh in case of 75% disability; Rs 7.5 lakh in case of 50 to 70% disability; and Rs 5 lakh in case of 20 to 50% disability, but to no avail. Even after its approval in the House in July last year, the process of insurance cover to its MC's 280 employees is yet to start.

MP Kohli, chairman, MC fire and emergency services committee, said, "The officials are not taking their jobs seriously, as for the past one year, no inspection has been conducted or no notice has been issued in any of the sectors of the city, which is necessary as per the National Building Code, 2005, and Delhi Fire Prevention Act extended to Chandigarh. The department does not even have a chief fire officer."

Ironically, the committee that formed after a major fire tragedy- in which, a four-storey building was destroyed and two firefighters were killed - in Sector 17B in June last year had also issued a slew of measures, but had not fixed the responsibility of any official.

The committee had reported that at least 362 posts of firemen were lying vacant for the past one decade, but till date, the MC had failed to pursue the matter with the UT.

The department had sent total 15 firefighters for training in Nagpur, spending Rs 3 lakh on each of them. But now, only five of them are working as firefighters, while rest of them as clerks.

One of committee members Surinder Bahga said, "Just two meetings were held last year, which is unfortunate. It seems officials are not interested even after the recommendation from the panel."

When contacted, chief fire officer Sunil Bhatia said, "The tenders for new vehicles have been floated, and within three months we will buy them. As far as the shortage of staff is concerned, we have been waiting for the reply from the Punjab Ex-Servicemen Corporation (PESCO?)."

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