Inadequate infrastructure affects firefighting in Amritsar

Tribune News Service

Charanjit Singh Teja

Amritsar, June 3

The Chief Minister, after chairing a meeting to review the impact of heatwave in the country, directed that drills for fire prevention and fighting need to be conducted regularly, though the city has several deficiencies in firefighting infrastructure.

A department that survives on minimal funding

  • Following a request from the Focal Point Association, the government last year approved the establishment of another fire station on Mehta Road, which currently houses two fire engines.
  • With a population of over 14 million, the city needs at least 26 fire stations to effectively fight fires.
  • Most of the existing fire stations were established before 1970. Although the city has grown over the past 50 years, the number of fire stations has not increased.

The Prime Minister suggested that fire audits and electrical safety audits of hospitals and other public facilities need to be conducted regularly. He said regular training should also be organised for maintaining forest fire lines and productive utilisation of biomass. The Prime Minister was also briefed on the usefulness of the ‘Van Agni’ portal for timely identification and management of forest fires.

But the holy city has to fill many gaps to overcome its firefighting handicaps. The city’s fire station often receives three to 10 calls a day during summer. Fires at the Bhagtanwala dumping site have become a regular occurrence, with the civic body stationing fire engines there all the time. Without proper equipment and supporting infrastructure, it is a real challenge for firefighters to tackle blazes in the narrow lanes of the walled city.

Amritsar has only four fire stations to cater to its population of 1.4 million. On the request of the Focal Point Association, the government sanctioned another fire station at the focal point on Mehta Road last year. Currently, two fire engines are stationed at the focal point. Fire engines and other infrastructure are being provided by the existing fire stations. No additional staff are yet to be recruited.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s Standing Fire Service Advisory Committee (SFAC), there should be one fire station for every 50,000 inhabitants. With a population of over 1.4 million, the city needs at least 26 fire stations to effectively deal with fires. However, there are only four, including three within the walled city center.

All these fire stations were established by 1970. In the last 50 years, the city has expanded but the number of fire stations has not increased. Though these fire stations are located in the heart of the city, most of the time major fire incidents are reported from outside the city. Town Hall, Bheri Gate and Girwari Gate fire stations are located in congested areas and it is difficult for fire trucks to respond to fire calls from outside the city and still find enough space to cross quickly and reach their destination on time.

Farm fires surge in rural areas during peak harvest season. Crops like rice and wheat are vulnerable to fire. Amritsar’s fire stations are overloaded as the surrounding towns lack proper infrastructure. The surrounding towns and districts have been devoid of firefighting facilities for a long time. The district has 10 surrounding towns near the city centre, including Beas, Raya, Baba Bakara, Jandiala, Katunangal, Majita, Rajasanshi, Lopoke Chugawan, Ajnala and Attari. These towns have no firefighting facilities except Jandiala and Majita. The government provided two fire engines each to these two towns last year.

Dilbag Singh, Additional Commissioner of District Fire Brigade, asserted that the city has adequate firefighting facilities and the government plans to set up more fire stations in the city. There is certainly a long way to go before the fire stations in the city meet the expected standards.

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