The operational preparedness of the Fire and Rescue Service in Ernakulam district has been affected because of factors like the laxity by government agencies and the delay in procuring equipments.
Foremost is the slackness by Kochi Corporation, town planners and Kerala Water Authority in installing fire hydrants at shopping centres like Broadway and Mattanchery, which have very narrow roads and are highly vulnerable to fire.
“We shot off numerous letters to the two agencies to install them, since it is near impossible for fire tenders to reach the interiors of the two markets. Unauthorised parking is another problem here. But neither agency has taken steps to install the hydrants,” said an official of the service.
Major fires like the one that engulfed the Joy Alukkas textile showroom at High Court Junction could be doused if water from the backwaters is pumped using high-power pumps. Hydrants in the vicinity are of tremendous help in such a situation, he said.
The Fire Services’ inherent inefficiencies and allegations of graft in the purchase of fire-fighting equipments, too have made a dent into its fire-fighting preparedness.
A Vigilance probe is underway into the purchase of inferior quality pick up vans intended to quell fires that take place in narrow lanes. They encounter problems if they are driven at high speeds. Four Fire Service stations in the district and many in nearby districts have these vehicles, which are lying idle because of the ongoing probe and their lack of reliability.
Bikes mounted with water mist, foam and powder used in fire fighting are inherently unstable, because of the modifications made over them. This is because of problems with their design. They are also 40 kg heavier than their maximum permissible load. Though driving them at higher speeds is risky, they are still being used.
With two such vehicles which were in use not in running condition, procuring a skylift for the district is long overdue. Even its technical specifications have not been finalised.
A skylift will enable fire fighters to combat fire in high-rise buildings and rescue people caught inside without entering it through steps or elevators.
The vehicle would be equipped with an aerial ladder that can rotate 360 degrees and reach up upper floors of a high-rise building within minutes. It will also be equipped with a hose and other equipments to spray water.
Fort Kochi station
The fire preparedness of Fort Kochi suffered a setback recently after the sole fire tender there was shifted out, reportedly without the permission of higher ups in the Fire Service.
“Steps have now been taken to bring back the tender to our training centre in Fort Kochi, where there are four drivers and other personnel,” an official said.
Despite drawbacks, we are trying our level best to respond to calls and tenders roll out of the station within two minutes of receiving a call. “Though the travel time allotted is 1 minute for a km, it is tough in heavy traffic.”
Apart from the Fire Service, the Kerala Electrical Inspectorate is the another agency that has to inspect and ensure that multi-storeyed buildings have adequate fire-fighting equipment.