In wake of recurring fires, lack of basic safety measures

The Kozhikode Fire and Rescue Services Department on Tuesday prepared a blueprint to install 25 fire hydrants at key shopping hubs and marketplaces within the city, considering the recurring fires and lack of fire safety mechanism within reach.

At a high-level meeting at the District Collectorate here, the Fire Department said locations such as S.M. Street, Mofussil Stand, Central Market, and Mavoor Road had been identified as high-risk zones lacking basic fire safety measures.

“We have estimated a cost of Rs.50 lakh for the installation of the fire hydrants. However, the funding for the project is yet to be decided. The fund-raising can be through MLA and MP funds, sponsorships, and through the city Corporation. The Kerala Water Authority will come up with the final cost estimate,” Assistant Divisional Officer, Kozhikode, Arun Bhaskar, told The Hindu.

The meeting was called in the aftermath of a fire in SM Street on Saturday in which two shops were destroyed. The fire force has since then complained of the lack of access and sought a revamp of the fire safety measures concentrating on marketplaces in the city.

But the district’s fire department is also facing a challenge within.

Attrition

“There is a high rate of attrition in our department. Our vacancies, despite new recruitments which may happen soon, will remain 30 per cent. Staffers leave the field for clerical jobs in other departments. Transfers, promotions, and recruitment delays also take a toll on the number of firemen who work in the field,” Mr. Bhaskar said.

The situation within the department gains significance as 819 fires were attended to and 765 emergency calls made to the eight fire stations in the district in 2012 alone.

Department records show that 161 people and 49 animals were rescued last year, while goods estimated at Rs.60.8 crore saved.

All this with a skeletal staff and sparse equipment in hand.

Limited equipment

The district has just 15 water tenders, two water lorries, two crash tenders for dousing oil fires, one emergency tender stationed at the Beach station, along with five ambulances and one Quick Response Vehicle fitted out with equipment, including concrete cutters.

Mr. Bhaskar said that with number of high-rises and multi-storeyed buildings on the rise in Kozhikode, the resources at hand were totally inadequate.

Violation of rules

Compounding the problem is the sheer number of old constructions that take advantage of a loophole in the Kerala Municipality Building Rules, 1999.

“Any building above three floors should take a fire no-objection certificate as per the 1999 rules. But the same rule is not applicable to constructions prior to 1999. The rules have been drafted without retrospective effect. Building owners and traders take advantage of this loophole at their own peril,” Mr. Bhaskar said.

“As per town planning provisions, we make it mandatory that each building should leave at least a space of 5 metres on all four sides. But that is openly flouted. Again, the fire department is hardly equipped to combat high-rise building emergencies. They have ladders which reach only till the third floor,” Sasikumar G, Regional Town Planner, said.

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