Even as Kochi is fast growing with major projects like Kochi Metro Rail and LNG terminal in its initial stage, the Fire and Rescue Service Department is left asking itself whether it is equipped to carry out rescue operations in case of fire or gas leak in these high risk places.
Recently, a person filed a public litigation petition before the High Court over the ill-equipped state of the Fire and Rescue Service Department in Kochi. The court, considering the petition, asked the Department to give a report regarding the equipment available with them. But the report could list only about 10 machines and devices for fire tendering and rescue operations. It came to light that the Department is not equipped to handle major fire or gas leak mishaps.
Starting with manpower, the department is short of firefighters by 55 per cent. There is a shortage of drivers also. Besides, there is a dearth of officers to carry out administrative work.
There are 15 fire stations in the district. Even though there are 431 posts of firefighters, the strength now is just 195. There is also shortage of drivers and not more than one vehicle at a time can be operated for fire fighting or other rescue operation from a fire station.
“Currently there are 15 drivers and there are only 19 posts. But even 19 posts of drivers for the entire district are not enough. The department requires more than 30 drivers’ posts in the district,” an official said. There is also a shortage of firefighters who supervise the rescue operations.
The condition of the vehicles operated by the Department is pathetic. When the Fire and Rescue Service Departments in other states are using very advanced vehicles imported from European countries, the department here makes do with old vehicles sans even power steering. A few months ago, Fire and Rescue units in Kochi were short of the chemicals to be added in the hydrants to douse the fire. The Department was short of hands to carry out administrative work such as granting approval for high-rise buildings. “The documents submitted for getting clearance have been pending for several months. Only a district supervising officer has been deputed to look after such matters and the department receives more than 20 applications for clearance on an average, daily. The department has sought for two more supervising officers each in five fire stations. But our request is pending and no action has been taken,” an official said.
The higher officials of the Department in Thiruvananthapuram said the lack of funds lead to this pathetic state. Not more than Rs 25 crore is allocated for the department in the Budget. “We cannot purchase new fire tenders for all the stations in Kerala with this amount. However, we will be asking for more funds to boost the activities of the department. We hope there would be some positive result,” an official in the Directorate of Fire and Rescue Service Department, said.
Skylift in the offing
After a decade-long demand for skylifts for carrying out rescue and fire fighting operations in the high-rises, the Fire and Rescue Service Department in Kochi is likely to get one soon. A team of officials visited Mumbai, Chennai and other major cities of the country to make a study on skylifts used by the Department there. “A detailed report has been filed before the Home Department for the need for skylifts. The government has to allot funds. We are likely to get a 35-metre skylift which might be imported. More than Rs 10 crore is required for the purpose,” an official said.