Ill-equipped firemen try to douse the flames at the Bistupur footwear store on Saturday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
When Golmuri fire station officer in-charge Rajdev Rai stepped out of a Bistupur footwear shop on March 16 night after fighting a blaze, his eyes were red and he gasped for breath.
Rai and his team, who worked non-stop for hours to control the fire at the Khadim’s retail store on N-Road, had minimal gear — a fire tender, helmets and leather boots.
Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), a device worn by firemen globally to prevent them from inhaling noxious fumes, is a luxury. The Golmuri firemen do not have oxygen supply. More shocking, they don’t have fire-resistant clothes.
The existing infrastructure at Jamshedpur’s government-run fire station at Golmuri is a real dampener.
“The conditions we firemen work under are pitiable, not to say life-threatening. But we always render our services with whatever resources we have at our disposal,” Rai said.
Inadequate gear apart, the service station is facing acute manpower crunch.
The government fire station has eight fire tenders, including a foam-based one. Each tender is supposed to have four firemen, one havildar and driver each. So ideally, there should be 48 fire personnel. However, at present, the number is less than half — 23.
There are 15 firefighters instead of 32, five drivers and three constables instead of eight under each category.
Though fire officials were reluctant about highlighting problems, they stressed they did their job with “utmost sincerity risking their lives”.
“It is we firemen who actually do the job of combating blaze. Our job conditions require us to face flames, ash, extreme temperatures and noxious fumes. But lack of proper safety gear and enough manpower makes our job tough. Dousing a blaze is life-threatening for us,” said a fireman refusing to come on record.
“We keep ourselves updated with fire gear used elsewhere. Self-contained breathing apparatus is now widely used. A hand-controlling branch, a special nozzle fitted to the fire tender, helps firemen aim precisely at the flames. Without these, we feel handicapped. Fireman Rocky Kumar Jha was seriously burnt while on the job in Chhayanagar last September,” the fireman said.
He added that the self-contained breathing apparatus, including gas mask, had been provided to them. “But as we don’t have oxygen cylinders, the device is useless. So, entering a burning building means we may have to inhale fatal carbon monoxide,” he added.
Rai, however, claimed that the fire station did all they could to control blaze. “Of course, there is shortage of firemen, drivers, havildars and equipment. But still we are capable of meeting any emergency in the steel city,” he said.
He added the process of recruiting firemen and drivers was on. “The problem of staff crunch will be solved shortly.”
The city experiences around 200 fire mishaps a year. Tata Steel’s firefighting service chips in during major incidents. But on a daily basis, firefighting is the onus of the Golmuri government station.