They are called in to battle fires and become heroes of the moment. With Diwali on Tuesday, these men are again on high alert, but they remain ill-equipped as ever.
These are the 56 men of the municipal corporation (MC) fire department, including the divisional fire officer and the fire station officer. The sanctioned strength of this department is 130, but neither does the MC have funds to pay salaries for more staff, nor does it bother to equip these firefighters with better gear.
Despite such hazards, the firemen are ever ready to put their lives on the line to save others. In May this year they had proved their mettle when for four days they fought the inferno at a paper mill here. They have become used to words of appreciation from government officials; no one wants to upgrade their department.
For a city with a population of more than 11 lakh, the MC has only seven fire tenders; another three are with the Sewa Samiti, a local NGO. None of these tenders are modern, such that whenever major fires have broken out, advanced fire tenders of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) or that of the Army had to be brought in.
Asked about their preparations on festive days, fire station officer Tirlochan Singh said they were on high alert and 24-hour duty. A 12-hour rooster schedule for fire fighters had been prepared and this would remain in force till November 14, he added.
As a precautionary measure, one fire tender has been permanently stationed at Jahajgarh Pataka Market and another at Bhagtawala where the city's garbage is dumped. Fire tenders at the department headquarters at Town Hall and at other fire stations have been kept ready.
"We have checked the Jahajgarh market and told shopkeepers selling crackers about the safety measures they were supposed to adopt," Singh said. "Anyone not following the rules, was liable to get his licence cancelled by the district administration."
The police have been asked by the MC to ensure that fire tenders face no obstruction. In case of a fire in any locality, the police will manage or divert traffic and ensure there are no encroachments, so that fire tenders can reach the spot without hindrance.