Shortage of men and machine

Imagine a fire breaks out in your high-rise building. Survival would mostly depend only on your building having a well-maintained fire-fighting system. For, the Fire and Rescue Services Department, busy fighting acute crunch of men and machine, might hardly make it in time.

Skylift, a vital equipment helpful in reaching up to the blazing high-rises, is missing in the department’s armoury. The state-of-the-art equipment with an extendable revolving ladder works on a hydraulic platform and comes with a computer screen to monitor its operations.

Cash shortage is being cited as a reason for not meeting the department’s longstanding demand for a skylift. Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan’s promise in June last year that the fire department in the district will be given one is yet to be kept.

Debatable

But it is debatable how suited is the bulky truck for the city with labyrinthine lanes and tangle of overhead wires and cables. It will be a challenge to ensure that the dangling power cables do not snare the ladder of the skylift.

Forget skylift, which is the cream among the firefighting equipment, the fire department does not even have adequate number of fire engines to rush to the blaze-hit buildings in time. SOS from multiple points continues to be one of the worst nightmares of the department as it will be stretched thin to evenly distribute equipment and fire engines.

Sixteen units in the Ernakulam division have to cope with just 18 fire engines in the place of 32 as two for each unit is a norm. Even among the fire trucks that are up and running, four are past the life expectancy of 20 years. And the warhorse of many fires is probably the one at the Muvattupuzha unit that joined the fleet 28 years ago.

The shortage of trucks means that the department has to borrow tenders between units. Other tools like fire-fighting suit, chemical suit, fire proximity suit, inflatable emergency light, spark-proof torch and multiple gas detector, fire-proof gloves are also in short supply in majority of the stations. Some of these items are available only in main stations. Local stations receiving calls for help in turn ring up the main stations before rushing out The proposal of the District Disaster Management Authority to the government last year seeking Rs. 40 lakh for purchasing fire-fighting equipment, including chemical suit to fight chemical disasters, has also failed to evoke response.

The shortage of manpower has been a perennial problem for the department in the district. Despite attaching a fresh batch of 58 trained firemen, the department still continues to have less than half of the allotted staff strength of 358.

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