'Fire brigade has only 50% of equipment it needs'

The fire brigade has at least 50 per cent less equipment than it needs and in this scenario it would be wrong to blame the agency in case of a major disaster, says former fire brigade chief L N Raut. The great loss caused by the inferno last month at Mantralaya in Mumbai has resulted in questions being asked about the preparedness of the city to fight big blazes. Measures like fire safety audits and installation of basic firefighting infrastructure at important city buildings are also being announced. 

Former chief fire officer LN Raut

Raut says what is still lacking is the political will to properly and fully equip the fire brigade. “Don’t blame the fire brigade alone if something goes wrong, for there are many other factors behind the current state of affairs, including the lack of political will,” Raut said. “The state government has suddenly woken up only because it has been burned this time.” 

Raut lamented that most of the action that is being taken is superficial. “Safety and security has always taken a back seat in our set-up because of lack of political will and the actual requirements of the fire brigade have never been addressed properly,” he said. “None of the civic bodies, including the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), have really learnt a lesson from the Mantralaya inferno.”  According to Raut, who served in the fire brigade for 35 years and was chief fire officer between 1994 and 2007, the fire brigade needs to be given sufficient funding.

“The city fire brigade requires at least double the firefighting equipment than it currently possesses and it should get more funding so that it is able to tackle major fire accidents in future,” he said. “One big aspect that needs to be considered is that the population of the city has crossed 35 lakh and the PMC has given permission to construct high-rise buildings.”

Deputy Commissioner, (Projects), Pravin Ashtikar said the city was in need of better firefighting equipment. “It is true that the city requires more sophisticated equipment and we had submitted a Fire Hazard Response and Mitigation Plan to the state government,” Ashtikar said. “We also need to fill up 72 more posts in the fire brigade.

We need turntable ladders, blower pumps and personal protective equipment for the firemen, whose work requires him to be near the fire. According to the requirement mentioned by the Standing Fire Advisory Committee, the PMC needs Rs 550 crore.”  Ashtikar said the PMC was expecting some part of the funding from the 13th Finance Commission of the Centre. Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise said the fire brigade was facing shortage of both manpower and equipment. 

“We are providing a most important service with a skeleton staff and insufficient firefighting equipment,” he said. “At almost all levels, we really need to get nearly double of what we have.”  In the Rs 3,633 crore annual budget of the PMC, the fire brigade was allotted Rs 40 crore. “This allotment includes funds for payment of staff and we require at least Rs 70 crore to meet our present needs,” Ranpise said.     

Current situation vs requirement

Resource Now Required
Staff 469 800
Fire engines 16 26
Water tankers 7 14
Rescue vans 2 4
Foam tender 1 2
Year budget Rs 40 cr   Rs 70 cr

(As stated by Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise)

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