One of the first lines of defence in times of disasters and calamities, the fire and emergency services department, is virtually running on crutches in Jammu and Kashmir.
From its top to the field level staff, the department—pressed into service in times of fire accidents and other emergencies—is facing gross shortage of manpower. Sample this:
The deputy director F&ES Srinagar is presently holding the additional charge of deputy director Anantnag, deputy director Kulgam, additional director Pulwama, additional director Budgam and joint director Kashmir division.
Against the allocated positions of six deputy directors, a senior official said, the department has just two of the officials in position. Against the required strength of 17 assistant directors, the state, which is spread over 24 districts, has only three such officials in place. And against sanctioned positions of 24 district fire officers (DFOs) only seven are in position, leaving 17 others vacant.
The situation is equally worse at ground level, particularly in Kashmir, which has seen a rise in fire accidents over the years.
As per official records, Kashmir division should have a minimum of 46 station officers. But 40 of these positions are vacant. Likewise, against the sanctioned posts of 131 sub-officers, only 50 sub-officers are in position, leaving 131 of these posts vacant.
“We don’t know when the last recruitment was carried out in the department,” a senior official said, commenting about the “miserable situation” in the department, which is among the few departments to have been established in 1893, in terms of manpower.
“Each time there is an emergency we are cursed despite putting our lives at risk. But nobody from outside knows this department has been rendered hollow. It seems the government has long forgotten this department,” said the official.
Another official commented: “If we looks at the data about staff strength in Kashmir division, not only low-ranking officials but the positions are vacant at higher levels too”.
As per official records, there are 971 posts of fireman, considered to be crucial in any emergency situation particularly fire accidents, lying vacant.
Against sanctioned strength of 1659 such posts, the department has only 688 firemen. Besides, the strength of leading firemen, which is an equally important post, in the department is just 425 against the sanctioned strength of 529, leaving more than hundred posts vacant.
The situation is no better at the level of drivers. At least 174 posts of fireman drivers are lying vacant, against sanctioned posts of 262.
“This data about drivers is eight months old; since then many more will have retired,” another official said, adding the present strength of mechanical drivers was just 124 against required strength of 238 drivers, leaving 114 posts vacant.
While during fire-fighting the firemen often suffer injuries there is not a single doctor available with the department in Kashmir which is spread over 12 districts. In Jammu the department has one medical officer, as per the records.
“The medical officer in Kashmir retired in April last year, but since then there has been no urgency shown by the authorities to fill up the post,” said the official.
As per national standards, a D-grade fire station should have staff strength of 26 men. But in Kashmir each station has just four to six men in place.
“At some stations the number is even less,” the official said. “Only God knows how we manage to run this department.”
Many fire tenders, pump stations of the department that had got badly damaged in the devastating flood of 2014 have neither been replaced nor repaired, said an official, adding the department has just 23 men in workshop to take care of entire fleet of fire tenders and other equipment.
The official said post-floods, Rs five crore had been sanctioned under World Bank funding for face-lift of buildings and purchase of required equipment. “Nobody knows what happened to the funds,” the official said.
Already faced with shortage of manpower and facilities the department is also pressed into service in case of forest fires and during gunfights between militants and security forces.