Fire department most neglected under Akalis; bettering it now: Sidhu

Any kind of preparedness to fight industrial and residential fires will fail when the buildings are high-rise and the streets are narrow, said a senior officer of the Punjab local bodies department under which the firefighting wings function. The bleak scenario was underlined on Tuesday, a day after a fire-induced collapse of a building in Ludhiana took at least 13 lives.

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“Many more such fires will happen as long as the buildings are constructed haphazardly, and norms violated,” said the officer requesting anonymity. Even on record, the department recently announced that 80% of the buildings in the state have no approved plan.

Local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, when contacted, pushed the blame onto the previous SAD-BJP government that was in power for 10 years. “The fire department was the most neglected during the Akalis’ rule,” he said.

The Congress came to power in March. Upon taking over, Sidhu said, he created a separate fire directorate. But it only has a head; no firefighters, nor machines. The director of the local bodies department holds additional charge of it.

“We need at least Rs 100 crore to streamline the firefighting mechanism in the state,” Sidhu said, “And an IPS officer to head this directorate, on the lines of other states.” He said he hopes things will fall into place “in about two years”. Under Sidhu, the department on the last three months purchased 69 new fire tenders, and 27 are in the pipeline. There are 239 fire tenders in the state, and that needs to reach 500.

The department has no fire escalator, though; and works only with ladders that cannot reach or evacuate those trapped in high-rise buildings such as the one in Ludhiana which was 67 feet tall. “We need at least six escalators to be placed at different locations in the state,” said a department officer. One escalator meeting international standards costs Rs 4-8 crore.

The state of affairs of the fire department could be judged from the fact that at least four firemen who died in the fire lacked safety gear. Sidhu himself said, “In the name of safety the firefighters entered the building by pouring water over their clothes and covering their faces with cloth, which is very sad. We will provide proper gear to the firemen.”

He added that his department is also working on a law of fire prevention which, he claims, will be passed next month. “After the law is in place, no building will get completion certificate until it meets the firefighting norms.”

Sourced from: Hindustan Times