While Diwali is around the corner and incidents of fire are common during this period, the Amritsar municipal corporation is yet to learn lessons from the massive conflagration that broke out at the district administrative complex a few days ago and kept the administrative officials as well as the officials of the fire department on their toes for more than a couple of days.
This is evident from the fact that despite acknowledging the need to upgrade its infrastructure, it is yet to do so, irrespective of the fact that Amritsar is home to several illegal firecracker manufacturing units.
However, ahead of Diwali, it has entrusted the charge of the fire department to joint commissioner Surinder Singh, besides annulling the Diwali leave of the employees of the fire department.
According to MC authorities, the officials of the fire department have been directed to be on duty and vigilant around the clock on Diwali to deal with incidents of fire as and when they are reported on or ahead of Diwali night. It is yet to be seen how they would manage with the scant infrastructure that they possess.
If one or two incidents of large scale fire were to break out this Diwali, the festival of lights would turn to darkness with the fire department lacking the requisite infrastructure and force to fight the fires. A number of these fires are reported within the narrow lanes of the walled city area.
All that the ill-equipped and understaffed fire department has to boast in the name of firefighting infrastructure are the eleven fire tenders out of which only seven are in working order. Besides this, there are not more than 20 fire fighters employed with the department at present, while there is absolutely no communication equipment available to help them all stay in touch in case of a massive fire.
“These fire tenders and fire fighters cater to a population of 25 lakh people in the city, besides also fighting the fires that break out at Tarn Taran, Patti, Beas and surrounding areas,” said Sadiq Masih, fire officer.
“Even if a single fire tender leaves the city to deal with the fire in another place, we feel crippled and overburdened,” he added. He further said small fire tenders were there for dealing with the fires that broke out in the walled city area, but a lot more was needed in terms of infrastructure.
Mayor Bakshi Ram Arora acknowledged the fact that the infrastructure available with the fire department was too meager to cater to a big city like Amritsar. “While it is the prerogative of the joint commissioner to plan out how to handle fire-related exigencies on the coming Diwali, MC has a few fire fighting machines in mind that it would like to consider buying for the department,” he said.
A look at Diwali preparedness
Joint commissioner Surinder Singh said even as the authorities were aware of the inadequacies of the department in terms of infrastructure, the MC had decided to put the little that was available with the fire department to the best use.
“Consequently, of the seven fire tenders in working order, one has been placed permanently at the fire cracker market at Ranjit Avenue in the wake of Diwali celebrations, while leaves of fire officials have been annulled and they have been asked to report to duty on Diwali,” he said. He added that in the days ahead, the MC has planned to buy a couple of new fire fighting machines to meet the shortfall,” he said.