Few can forget the sight of great tongues of fire leaping out of the Taj hotel building in Mumbai during the 26/11 terror siege. Now there is a proposal to jointly train firemen with security agencies for better coordination during hostile situations.
Highly-placed sources in the home ministry said the idea was thrown up for discussion during a conference of the chiefs of fire service of all states held in Goa. "In principle, it has been agreed that firemen will undergo training to understand sign languages and carry the bare minimum equipment needed for effective coordination with the security forces," a senior ministry functionary told IANS. "It will result in quick and timely action," said the officer.
During the November terror strike in Mumbai, Pakistani militants attacked the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in south Mumbai and set its dome on fire in order to keep off commandos. The fire that raged inside was equally damaging to the heritage building.
Personnel from the Mumbai fire fighting services had a tough time as the terrorists kept hurling grenades towards them. It also exposed the lack of coordination among security agencies and firemen.
So the home ministry initially mooted the idea that firemen be provided commando training and equipped with weapons to fight infernos and terrorists at the same time.
"We had experienced a lot of difficulty and there was lack of coordination between the security agencies and fireman during the anti-terror operations at the Taj Mahal hotel," said the official.
"So we gave the idea that firemen should be given commando training, arms and other communication gadgets while carrying out rescue operations during such hostile situations. This would help save the lives of common men as well as fire officials," the official added.
But this did not find any takers among fire service chiefs.
"In unison we declined the idea. We said it was not possible for fireman to carry arms with them. It is the job of the security forces and they are better equipped and trained to handle it," K.D. Kargoppikar, chief of the Mumbai Fire Service, told IANS over phone.
"Our contention is very clear - we cannot carry arms. We are ready for rescue operations given that the security personnel provide us frontal security cover," Kargoppikar said.
He had made a presentation before all the other fire service chiefs apprising them of the operational difficulties faced during rescue operations at the Taj Mahal Hotel.
Delhi Fire Service chief R.C. Sharma too has disapproved the idea of commando training for firemen. "It is not possible to perform two jobs at the same time. Either we can douse flames or fight terrorists with the bullet," Sharma said.
"We cannot carry arms, as it may inflict injuries on our men as well. Secondly, it will hamper our basic job of fire fighting and rescuing people.
"How do you expect a fireman to wear bullet proof jackets which are 10 kg in weight and then wear breath analyzers which add more weight. Then we have to carry a weapon. It is not feasible," Sharma added.
The official at the ministry said the unwillingness and reluctance of the top fire service officials prompted them to drop the idea of giving arms to firemen. But now the plan is to give them joint training with the security forces.
When asked if the proposal had been approved by the government, the official said at the moment it was in a nascent stage. "It will see more discussion during the conference of chief fire service officials in June," he said.
At least 170 people were killed in the terror attack in Mumbai in November last year.