There is an alarmingly long list of reasons why Mumbai's fire brigade needs an urgent and complete overhaul. The department has been without a chief since 2010, there is friction and unhealthy competition among senior officers who are jostling for the top post, and no new officers have been recruited recently.
What’s more, the morale of the department frequently takes a hit, with allegations of corruption being levelled frequently against its officers. If that were not enough, recent suspensions, a uniform scam, lack of a team to conduct fire audits of buildings, and an ongoing legal battle seem to have put the ailing department in dire straits.
“While the department does its daily fire-fighting job, there is no long-term planning to ensure fire safety systems in buildings, or acquiring advanced technology for firefighting operations,” said a fire officer, not wishing to be named.
The apathy plaguing the department is illustrated by the fact that the department has failed to allocate the budget that it was allotted by the BMC. In the
2014-15 financial year, only 17% of the total budget of Rs190 crore for the department was utilised.
There have been frequent allegations about corrupt officers, who granting NOCs to developers and restaurants without conducting checks. Deputy chief fire officer SA Kale is facing suspension for allegedly clearing NOCs without first examining a plot.
There is also friction between officers who are vying for the top post. One of them has moved court against the BMC. With the lower rung of firemen suffering because of friction among the upper echelons, the morale of the department is at an all-time low. “BMC wants to have minimum manpower and maximum work. The department is severely short-staffed. There are fire engines in the fire station but no staff members to man it. In the last eight years, we haven’t got the fire-resistant protective suits that we were promised. Our suits are in tatters,,” said Rajesh Kangne, joint secretary of a firemen’s union.
The department only has 57 fire engines, 28 water tankers, 28 ambulances and eight ladders. As per the rule, more than half of the current fleet of 57 vehicles need to be phased out, as they are more than 15 years old.
Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta said, “We have ordered an inquiry into the matter and it would touch upon all these issues.”