Firefighting unit in shambles

Greater Kashmir

Muzaffarabad, Sept 11: The fire-fighting unit of Municipal Corporation Muzaffarabad is in a wretched condition which people fear can spell doom in the event of any major incident of fire but the Pakistan administered Kashmir government and other federal agencies engaged in uplift of the quake hit town seem to have turned a blind eye towards it, Greater Kashmir has learnt.
The fire fighting unit comprises a fire officer and 18 subordinate employees and three vehicles, two of which – big trucks with water storage capacity of 1200 gallons each – were inducted in early and late eighties and the third one – a small pick up with storage capacity of 500 gallons – in 1998.
However, having exhausted their normal life these vehicles frequently develop mechanical faults which subsequently sends them off the road.
“These worn out vehicles can spell disaster in any major eventuality,” said one employee on condition of anonymity.
According to him, one big vehicle was particularly in a dilapidated condition but was being used despite warning by its driver that the defect could cause a major road accident some day.
Apart from the shabby vehicles, the so called fire-fighting unit also lacked almost all other allied facilities such as cylindrical metal containers and protective kits.
The employees pointed out that in most areas of Muzaffarabad, narrow streets restricted close access of their vehicles to the site of inferno and in such situations only long lengths of fire hoses could help put water onto the fire.
However, they said the fire hoses provided with the vehicles were not in required lengths and also dripped from various spots which subsequently minimized the pressure of water flowing through them.
They said they didn’t have any arrangement to put out fire in the upper storeys of any tall building.
Interestingly, same vehicles are also being used by the civic body to supply water in makeshift camps, mosques and other localities of the town facing water scarcity – a job which basically is the responsibility of the public health engineering department.
Besides, at least one fire brigade vehicle has to be kept stand by at the helipads whenever any chopper makes landing in and around the town.
When contacted, the MCM administrator Zahid Amin also confirmed the shortcoming of the fire fighting unit and put the blame on resource constraints.
“We are running short of resources which is why we have not been able to augment it,” he told Greater Kashmir.
He told that the MCM fire-fighting unit was responsible for extinguishing blazes not only within the municipal limits but also in areas stretching out beyond that, such as Noseri village in northeast, Chakothi in the south and Kohala in the southwest of the capital.
Amin said the civic body had made a request to the government long before the earthquake to augment its fire brigade but traditional red-tapism prevented any action on it.
Same request was again made to the government and also to the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) after the quake but it met a similar fate, he regretted.
He recalled that several incidents of fire had occurred in tent villages after the quake and the coming winter season could see their recurrence as hundreds of families were still living in temporary shelters in and around Muzaffarabad with inadequate heating arrangements.
“The post earthquake situation has necessitated the provision of a state of the art fire-fighting unit in the town but I wonder why the concerned official agencies appear to be unmoved about this vital requirement,” he said.
Amin said he had made a personal request to his counterpart from a Turkish civic body, engaged in relief activities in Muzaffarabad, to provide them 20 fire proof dresses and was hopeful of getting them in near future.