Of the nine fire stations in South Delhi, none of them have a single fireproof uniform. Delhi Fire Services should have 200 such uniforms, which are imported from the United States of America, according to their website. However, according to Jagbir Singh, the station officer at Sarita Vihar, only five such uniforms are present and that too for the purpose of training only.
Lack of uniforms isn’t the only issue at hand when it comes to the Delhi fire service people. The fire station at Okhla, phase-III, has only two fire trucks in working condition. The station is a two room structure with two rope bunks and a few cupboards. Behind it is a vast land which is usually a grazing ground for cattle. Station officer Bhagat Singh says that these are the conditions they live in and they have to manage within whatever little they have.
After receiving a fire call, the station has to respond within a minute. Which means that the fire truck leaves within a minute during the daytime. When responding to a call, the truck has six members. A fireman has one shift of 24 hours at a stretch and they have to respond to every call during the day, no matter how many they receive. Dealing with death on a daily basis affects the psyche and emotional stability of many of these firefighters. The Delhi Fire Services received 27000 calls during the financial year 2015-16.
Firemen face a lot of issues. When stuck in traffic, they aren’t given way. If they reach the location late, they face the brunt of the victims. Most of the colonies built in Delhi aren’t made in a way to fit in a fire truck which makes their job even more difficult. “People don’t cooperate even after knowing that we are going to save other people’s lives,” says Jagbir Singh.
Shortage of staff is another huge concern for the fire department. “Since it is a job which requires for us to put our lives at stake, no one wants to join fire services,” says Phool Singh, station officer, Nehru Place fire station. Whenever there is a major fire, firemen from all the stations of the zone are called. It puts the firemen in a spot in case there is another fire emergency.
SP Bhardwaj, assistant division officer, Dwarka, who lost two of his fellow firemen during the Narela fire incident on October 1, 2016, feels that the incident made the Delhi Fire Services become helpless. He adds that this was termed as a ‘serious’ fire incident and such an incident happened after a long time in Delhi. A building collapsed in Narela causing the death of two firemen and one civilian and injuring three other firemen seriously.
A cylinder blast on February 24 in Vikas Puri area claimed the life of two firemen. “A fireman enters the situation unaware of the surroundings and our first priority is to save whoever is trapped inside. Nothing can happen to us, we are fireproof,” concludes Jagbir Singh.