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The shocking state of Mumbai's firemen

By Neeta Kolhatkar
Last updated on: May 20, 2015 14:39 IST
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Firemen battle the blaze in Kalbadevi

Do you know firemen who risk their lives every day earn salaries equivalent to clerks?

Last week's tragedy where three Mumbai firemen died fighting a fire must wake up the city's rulers, says Neeta Kolhatkar.

The May 9 incident in which three firemen died fighting a blaze in Kalbadevi, south Mumbai, should shame our authorities and citizens.

The deaths of the firemen, including the city's deputy fire chief, spells absolute doom for their families. The Maharashtra government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation should ensure that their families' future is secured.

A lot more needs to be done urgently before the fire fighting force faces more problems. Mumbai's prestigious fire brigade is short staffed. A feasibility report based on the fire call, response time and accessibility, says the city's fire fighting force is short of approximately 35 fire stations and 26 on an emergency basis. This study is based on population density, traffic flow, etc.

Imagine how the already stressed force is being risked. The BMC has to allot plots for these 26 fire stations. It is pathetic that the corporation finds no time for a force that is essential, but has no problem with illegal encroachments.

There is only one National Fire Service College for the whole country based in Nagpur. This too is only meant for officers. Once a fireman joins the service, there is absolutely no scope for advanced training like hot oil drills and other emergency services he needs to be prepared for.

Maharashtra established a college for fire training in Kalina, a northwest Mumbai suburb. However, the focus is more academic than primed to deal with the gruelling demands of the service. This could not be done because the state government refused to allot a bigger plot of land.

The attitude of the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai municipal authorities reveals how they value the lives of citizens and worse, the fire fighting force.

Speaking of treatment, the fireman who fights blazes is paid a salary equivalent to that of a clerk. That firemen feel short-changed is absolutely justified.

We expect firemen to forget their families and risk their lives every day to save us, but do not pay them well.

Like a fire officer pointed out to me, "The armed forces are not fighting a war every day, but we fight fires and other emergencies often. My men are valued as mere clerks instead of an armed force, but we are expected to save lives on a daily basis. See the pathetic situation we are placed in."

I say hats off to these soldiers who risk their lives for us.

Image: Firemen battle the blaze in Kalbadevi, south Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

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Neeta Kolhatkar