Fire service hit by staff shortage

Lack of equipment and poor pay also affect the functioning of

the department,

writes Biju Govind.

Shortage of hands, especially specialised staff, lack of infrastructure and low pay affect the Fire and Rescue Services in Kozhikode district, say senior officials. The high attrition rate is a cause for concern.

The officials say there are several vacancies — from the posts of fireman to station officer — at the six fire stations in the district. Eleven vacancies are there at the beach station, which and those at Meenchanda and Vellimadukunnu are the main stations.

Headless stations

The stations at Meenchanda, Mukkom and Perambra have been headless for a long time. Station officers at Vadakara and Vellimadukunnu will retire in a month. These stations do not have assistant station officers.

In case of exigencies in various parts of the district or neighbouring Malappuram, the personnel at the beach station are deployed, the officials say.

The fire stations run round the clock. But the employees say they are not provided modern equipment to combat major accidents or natural calamities. Usually, fire tenders attached to the Navy, the Coast Guard or the Karipur airport are summoned as had happened during a major blaze on Sweet Meat Street, which killed eight persons and destroyed 50 shops.

The beach station lacks a crash tender used to combat fire due to oil spills. The department needs an emergency tender that can store 4,500 litres of water and 500 litres of foam compound.

Fibre boats, rescue tools and more tanker lorries are needed in all six stations. Now, most of them are ill-equipped to meet emergencies caused by landslips or accidents in rivers and reservoirs.

No ambulance

The station does not have an ambulance. Normally, accident victims are taken to hospitals in utility vehicles, officials say.

It is provided with a 10.6-metre ladder, said to be unsafe for rescue operations in high-rise buildings that have come up in the city and suburbs after the property boom.

A few months ago, the fire tenders had a difficult time dousing a fire in a hospital. Stations should be equipped with proper fire-escape ladders, a senior official says.

Basic amenities are still a distant dream for the staff, the officials say. The beach station lacks a bathroom. Only recently, a room meant for sentries was converted into a toilet for its 50 employees.

Firemen have to tidy themselves at nearby houses after an operation.

The Meenchanda station’s staff quarters is not properly constructed. Water flows from the septic tank into the roads and nearby areas, causing inconvenience to the residents, he says.

None of the stations has trained divers and swimmers. Some of them are imparted training during the initial stages of their entry into the force.

But without equipment or periodic refresher courses, the firemen become incapable of handling a disaster. Often, they have to remain mute witness to many accidents in rivers, officials say.

To greener pastures

Attrition is attributed to low wages. The officials say they have been getting a raw deal after the then Fire Force Department was bifurcated from the Police Department in 1967.

The difference in basic pay scale is over Rs. 1,000 at the entry level.

Many employees scout for jobs in corporate companies in India and abroad and other government-related jobs, including police service. At least 40 personnel have sought greener pastures in recent times, an official says.

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