A fire safety wing, started in 1962, was wound up as accidents ‘were not occurring’ in trains

The fire safety mechanism in Indian Railways has come into sharp focus in recent times because of the rising number of mishaps in trains across the country, more so in Andhra Pradesh.

There have been as many as five major fire accidents in the State starting from Goutami Express in 2008 to the recent Bangalore City-Nanded Express in the last five years. Yet, there have been conflicting claims on the cause of the accidents and concrete measures to provide a fool-proof fire safety mechanism in trains has been absent, point out officials from the A.P. Fire Services Department, declining to be identified.

Interestingly, the Indian Railways did have a fire safety wing till May 1999, but for reasons best known to the officials concerned, it was shelved. The wing was started in 1962, but it gradually got ignored and started weakening perceptibly from 1992 onwards on the premise that fire accidents “were not occurring” in trains. The wing was totally abandoned in May 1999, they reveal.

The department comes into the picture since railways depend on fire services wings of different States to tackle any fire emergencies. “It’s a mystery why the Indian Railways abandoned the fire wing,” remarked senior fire service officials. They affirm that having a dedicated wing for fire safety akin to the Railway Protection Force (RPF) is the best way to tackle fire mishaps and also prevent them. “Just like the RPF men regularly inspect all compartments to keep a tab on those moving suspiciously and ensure safety of passengers, special fire safety wing personnel can look into fire safety issues constantly inside the compartments before the journey and during the running stage, too,” they explain.

“Fireman can check fuse boxes, air-conditioned units, sockets and other electrical equipment. In case of a fire breaking out, he will immediately swing into action and take up fire-fighting operation. He can also guide passengers on quick evacuation from the coach avoiding the chaotic situations inside,” explained Regional Fire Officer (Eastern Region) D. Murali Mohan.

In fact, acknowledging the importance of the fire safety in 2009, municipal corporationshad set up separate wings to deal with fire-related problems.

It is advisable for the Indian Railways to at least start such a mechanism on a pilot basis and gradually extend the service to all trains, Mr. Mohan added.

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