Fire services grapple with aging fleet, outdated equipment

The recent blaze at an apartment complex at Vazhuthacaud has once again exposed the lack of safety standards in the mushrooming high-rise buildings in the capital and the obsolete fire-fighting and rescue equipment with the Kerala Fire and Rescue Services.

Although the fire was reported from the fourth floor of the 14-storey complex, smoke soon engulfed the top floors making the rescue and evacuation difficult for the fire and rescue personnel. In the absence of sky lifter and other modern equipment, the personnel, risking their lives, evacuated 17 families trapped in the smoke-filled floors and later the others.

A sky lifter with the Fire and Rescue Services team that rushed to the spot on getting the call of the blaze could have made the job easier in evacuating the occupants. Sources said the personnel, after wearing the breathing apparatus, had to move along the stairs to enter the smoke-filled apartment complex to carry out the rescue operations.

The authorities were yet to wake up and act in spite of incidents like the lodge collapse at Thampanoor, fire in an apartment complex at Althara, and the recent blaze in a godown at Aryasala near the busy Chala market.

At Aryasala, the personnel had to douse the flames by standing on a ladder placed on the ‘gopuram' of a temple located close to the godown. Sky lifter, used to tackle emergencies in high-rise buildings and estimated to cost Rs.6 crore, was yet to reach the department though there was a proposal to procure one each for the three major cities of the State.

Sources said the fire in high-rise buildings could be avoided if the builders (of apartment complexes) followed the prescribed safety standards.

Awareness

Residents should also be made aware of taking adequate precautions. In many buildings, the fire-fighting equipment would become non-functional after the mandatory no-objection certificate was given by the Fire and Rescue Service Department and the residents start occupying the flats.

In many buildings, the sumps will not have water, the hydrant, hose, fire duct, extinguisher, and alarm would not function.

The department had not been empowered to inspect and take action against erring building owners.

“Although those concerned (regarding the building) are supposed to give a declaration before January 20 every year to the respective fire station, it is seldom done,” sources said. Inflatable tower lights that can be used for lighting up a large area had been on the wish list of the department.

In the fire which broke out in the ground floor of the apartment complex at Althara, the headlight of the official vehicle of City Police Commissioner was switched on for the operations as there was no sufficient light.

The fire department personnel undertake rescue operations with an aging fleet, outdated equipment, and by risking their lives.

Acute shortage of staff and vehicles is also affecting the department.

Of sanctioned strength of 2,342, as many as 1,338 posts had been lying vacant in the department. 

The new fire stations sanctioned by the government were being operated by redeploying the personnel.

Sources said uniforms and necessary equipment were last supplied a decade ago. The firemen lacked proper gumboots, they said.

The department had failed to utilise the Rs.20-crore Central fund allotted for modernisation.

Sources said the funds would lapse if it was not used before the end of the financial year.

The Rs.207-crore modernisation plan prepared by the department was yet to get the requisite nod.