Medics administering first aid to firefighters with minor injuries which they sustained while trying to control a blaze at a textile factory near Cheema Chowk on Thursday.(Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)
Medics administering first aid to firefighters with minor injuries which they sustained while trying to control a blaze at a textile factory near Cheema Chowk on Thursday.(Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)

Ludhiana: Firefighters risk own lives, but sans fireproof suits, safety kits

Hindustan Times | By Harshraj Singh, Ludhiana
UPDATED ON MAY 12, 2017 10:23 AM IST

The city witnessed its eighth fire incident on Thursday, but the authorities have failed to learn a lesson from the past. Four firefighters sustained severe burns while five others suffered minor injuries when they were attempting to control a fire on the second floor of a textile factory in Vijay Nagar near Cheema Chowk. But this could have been avoided if they were wearing fireproof suits. Now, of the nine injured, four are admitted at Christian Medical College and Hospital, with burns ranging between 20% and 40%, and the next 72 hours crucial for any hope of recovery.

Despite repeated requests, the municipal corporation has failed to provide safety kits to firefighters who put their own lives at risk during such operations. The fire wing has long demanded 32 imported fireproof suits but in vain. An injured firefighter, Inderpreet Singh, who suffered a minor burn on his hand was seen breaking a portion of the back wall of Mallika Textiles with a hammer. Firefighters are commonly spotted breaking down walls to drive the smoke out in the absence of required machines.

That’s not all. Firefighters have to climb high-rise buildings as the fire wing lacks a hydraulic ladder. In the absence of safety kits and masks, they inhale poisonous gases leading to severe irritation in the eyes. It is well known that in major fire incidents, a common cause of death is smoke inhalation.

Due to a shortage of fire stations and water refilling stations, fire tenders are forced to visit far-flung areas to collect water. Besides, firefighters don’t have sufficient fire safety suits to avoid burns.

Only six fire tenders received in last one year

According to a letter sent to the government around three to four years ago, the fire wing requested varied equipment and vehicles including two hazmat vans, four advanced rescue vans, 26 fire tenders, 11 water boozers, five foam tenders, 14 water mist on motorbikes, 10 high pressure pumps, 10 portable pumps, three aerial ladder platforms, two turn ladder tables, 15 jeeps, five light towers, 16 generators, 16 motorcycles, 16 mini fire tenders, 16 hydraulic spreaders, 16 hydraulic cutters, RRL hose pipes, 32 breathing apparatus sets and 32 imported fireproof suits.

But the fire wing received only six new fire tenders in the last one year on directions of Punjab and Haryana high court.

A fireman said, “When compared to the population and the number of buildings, the department needs 100 fire tenders and more fire stations. As Dholewal fire station was shut, there was no provision to collect water from a place close to Cheema Chowk. More fire stations should be set up in industrial areas.”

Mayor Harcharan Singh Gohalwaria said the MC will purchase required machinery and safety kits for firefighters and provide insurance cover to them.

“We perform our job without fear and I feel proud that out firefighters work hard despite the challenges. It does not matter if I live 10 years less, but it is more important to ensure others’ safety,” said fire officer Rajinder Sharma.

Contractual firefighters await regularisation 

Around 15 young firefighters, who are always active during any operation, are awaiting regularisation. Each contractual firefighter earns only Rs 10,000 per month, but the government has taken no measures for their safety.

Fire station officer KL Kakkar said they had written to the government to provide required equipment. “We have recently requested for more fire tenders and a hydraulic ladder,” he said.

No action against fire safety violations in buildings 

Of the one lakh industrial, commercial and other units, only 1,700 have obtained ‘no objection’ certificate (NoC) but the MC continues to turn a blind eye towards them. The fire wing issues NoC to only those units that ensure required fire safety arrangements.

Not only this, the fire wing still does not have properly framed regulations under the Fire Act that can empower them to take action against errant buildings.

Gohalwaria said they made it mandatory for all units to obtain an NOC after ensuring fire safety arrangements.

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