The fire station of the Panvel Municipal Council, supposed to serve a population of over 1.8 lakh people, is afflicted with problems. It has not had a fire officer for the last three years. It has eight firemen, who frequently call upon PMC labourers for helping with firefighting jobs. It has two fire engines, and one is non-functional at present. But all of these pale in comparison to what happened about a fortnight ago.
Around two weeks back, a PMC fire tender was rushed to a site of fire. The firemen rushed out, and started the water pump to douse the flames. But the pump backfired, and smoke started billowing out of the fire engine. It was then left up to the people thronging the site to douse bucketfuls of water to suppress the flames.
The pump had reportedly broken down because of poor maintenance of the fire engine. “We started the water pump and, suddenly, smoke started erupting out of the fire engine. We called up the CIDCO fire station in Kalamboli, but the locals had doused the fire before the tenders arrived. We do not know the reason for the breakdown. It must have happened because the clutch plate of the engine failed,” said a staffer at the fire station.
A PMC official, asking not be named, said, “Since there are just eight firemen and they have to work in three shifts, we have provided them with some labourers from the cleaning and sanitation department.”
Asked about the fire assignment, a sanitation labourer said, “We are generally not stationed at the fire station. Fire officials just take some of us (labourers) along with them when a fire breaks out. We are supposed to help them douse fires. It is very exciting.”
Residents of Panvel have shown no surprise over the state of the PMC-run fire station. Arun Bhise of the Citizen Unity Forum said, “The PMC’s services have always been pathetic, and we have suffered due to the negligence of the authorities. The news of a fire engine breaking down right when it was supposed to control a fire does not surprise us.”
For its part, PMC said it has not hired firemen because it has not received the requisite permissions from the state government. Shridhar Patankar, chief executive officer of PMC, said, “We are aware that there aren’t many tenders at the fire station but the number of firemen is as per state government norms. We have written to the state authorities, requesting them to approve more posts at the PMC fore station. Also, we have written to the state government about the appointment of the fire officer.”