Fiery feats

THE NURSERY rhyme speaks of the valour, determination and sacrifice demonstrated by firemen in any part of the world. The Madurites had the opportunity to witness different types of fire and rescue operations carried out by personnel of the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) Department in a meticulous manner, in the Collectorate complex throughout November and in the first week of December.

These operations were part of the training imparted to personnel of the newly formed `fire commando wing' of the TNFRS to keep themselves abreast of modern developments in the field of technology and fire-fighting and rescue techniques.

Even as the spectators stood in awe, the 20-odd trainees took part in the spectacular mock-drill. Wearing aluminium suits, they walked through blazing fire, climbed ladders to rescue victims `trapped' inside a high-rise structure and lifted victims on their shoulders effortlessly. Some of them with gasmasks even jumped into a well to save victims from `poisonous' gas leak. Some of their colleagues even walked a tightrope to rescue people.

The training programme, which will be a continuous one, assumes significance in view of the tough challenges faced by the fire and rescue personnel in Tamil Nadu as elsewhere in the country today. In addition to their traditional tasks related to tackling fires, accidents and natural calamities, they now have to face some of the perpetual threats, which include terrorist attacks, caste and communal clashes and hazards of possible bio-wars, officials point out.

With rapid urbanisation and fast industrialisation changing the very complexion of life in society, chemical leaks, fires in multi-storeyed buildings, fires in congested and over-populated cities and towns with difficult access and the problems of handling fire by using water as the main agent of fire-fighting due to dire scarcity of water pose big challenges to the TNFRS. This has necessitated its personnel to prepare themselves to face the new challenges in the modern world, says the Divisional Fire Officer, V. Ramachandran. The training for the fire commandos will go a long way in meeting the requirements on this count, he opines.

Fiery feats

Apart from the conventional methods such as `ropes and lines', `ladder rescue', flood, sewage and lift rescue, first aid , fireman lift, stretcher drill, mobile tank drill, pump drill etc., the commandos are trained in complicated rescue operations during disasters caused by chemical effluents, poisonous gas leak and release of radioactive substances. In view of growing public awareness on maintaining the eco-balance, the TNFRS personnel have been trained in catching snakes without killing them so that they can be sent back to their original habitats.

In order to ensure effective fire and rescue management, the members of the commando force, during the hands-on experience and lecture-cum-demonstration sessions, are taught in handling modern gadgets like lifting bags, smoke exhausters, poisonous gas detectors, generators and other combi-tools of aid in rescue operations. The commandos are well versed in operating various kinds of spreaders, cutters, VHF wireless sets and power-saws. In addition to the training programme, a state-of-the art training institute in Tambaram, which is on a par with the National Fire Service College, Nagpur, also helps the personnel at different levels update their skills, officials claim.

It goes without saying that quick response and timely service by the TNFRS personnel are essential for a sensitive district like Madurai to bring down losses due to fire and calamities through prompt mobilisation of men and machinery belonging to nine fire stations located in Tallakulam, Anuppanadi, Usilampatti, Melur, Tirumangalam, Sholavandan, Kottampatti, Kallikudi and Madurai town. The data available for the past five years speak for themselves: From 1999 to June 2003, as many as 50 major fires, 127 medium fires and 2381 small fires had occurred in the district. Most of these mishaps were caused by carelessness on the part of the public such as unsafe disposal of cigarette butts in slums and neglectful handling of LPG cylinders, apart from electric short circuits.

During this period, the fire stations have received 80 rescue calls relating mostly to emergencies such as road accidents, train accidents, accidental fall into wells, attack by insects, inhalation of poisonous gases, cracker fire, building collapses and other natural and man-made calamities.

The TNFRS in the division has at its command 14 fire-tenders, 2 ambulances and a foam tender. It also has a water tanker. But the division needs more modern equipment and machinery including a turntable ladder and hydraulic platform, experts opine. Despite the drawbacks, the TNFRS personnel continue to perform the fire and rescue operations, besides providing fire prevention education to the public in schools, industries, offices and villages through lectures and demonstrations.


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