Fire dept burns hole in taxpayers' pocket with new toys

Sparks are flying over the fire brigade’s extravagance in acquiring state-of-the-art apparatus when, sources say, the department should has more imperative issues to deal with. In the last one year, the force has spent more than Rs 32 crore in purchasing firefighting vehicles from foreign companies. According to the sources, the trappings the department has obtained from Hytrans Fire System – a company from The Netherlands – are useful in dousing forest fires and are not of much use in a city.

Raising the stakes! Fire brigade officials and personnel seen inspecting the Hytrans Fire System unit purchased recently by the department for Rs 4.23 crore. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

“In the last one year the fire brigade has purchased a Volvo Branto (with a 42-metre ladder) costing Rs 12 crore, another Volvo Branto (with a 70-metre ladder) priced at Rs 15 crore, a Hytrans Fire System unit for Rs 4.23 crore, three water engines for Rs 23 lakh each, and 15 Tata Jeeps at Rs 9-10 lakh,” said Rajendra Shipekar, officiating depot superintendent. Speaking to MiD DAY, chief fire officer Prashant Ranpise said, “Fire brigade received the delivery of the Hytrans unit a few days ago and a technical committee from the particular country is conducting training sessions for it. Its 12-inch-broad pipes automatically pump water from a reservoir. After the job is done, the pipe folds on its own. It can douse a fire in minimum time.”

Striking a dissenting note, civic activist Vivek Velankar said, “We don’t have enough reservoirs to pump water on such a large scale. They should study what the actual needs of the department and the city are. This is sheer waste of public money. There is a hint of corruption here.” Meanwhile, sources say the Volvo Branto (with 70-metre ladder) purchased two months ago for Rs 12 crore broke a clutch plate while coming from Mumbai to Pune and remained at the company’s servicing centre in Wakad for 25 days. More than 20 lakh rupees were spent on repairs. 

“The department is purchasing equipment spending crores of rupees, but there is little as far as maintenance of these vehicles is concerned. There should be regular exercises so the personnel become more adept at handling them. Consider the seven Bullet bikes purchased two years ago – each cost Rs 7 lakh, has two small water tanks and is useful in slums and other congested areas. But they have been used just once for a rally in the last two years. Only four tankers are in use and a foam tender is not in working condition,” said a source. On the other hand Ranpise said that regular exercises are being conducted to make firefighting employees familiar with the tools. “For the new Hytrans equipment we organised a demonstration at Katraj Lake,” he said.

Rs 32 cr Approx amount spent by the fire brigade for purchasing these firefighting equipment

‘Money spent with vision’
Pravin Ashtikar, in-charge of the disaster management department of PMC refuted all the charges. “There should be a vision while purchasing vehicles and equipment. These vehicles can avoid causalities. We face fire at garbage depots and in slums every year. Ordinary fire brigade vehicles cannot reach there in time. In that situation, a Hytrans unit can be used. It can stand outside the area and release water into it. We have been maintaining all the equipment properly. In the last two years, we have succeeded in avoiding causalities in mishaps, which is a big achievement for the department.” 

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