A short-circuit sets ablaze a cotton depot down a narrow alley in a congested market in the middle of the night. Somebody dials 101 but fumbles while giving the fire brigade the exact location of the godown.
A template situation for fire incidents in Calcutta, considering its labyrinth of lanes and obsolete firefighting equipment.
Now cut to the future. Firemen on custom-fitted Royal Enfield Bullets lead a mid-sized fire truck as they siren in with the control room directing them via GPS.
Firefighters disembark at the site carrying extinguishers in their backpacks, a portable light tower and a breathing apparatus. They hose the flames and enter the smoke-filled building wearing breathing masks to look for casualties. Electricity is out but they work by the light of the mobile lighting kit.
All these and more are part of the fire service department’s latest procurements to modernise the force, reduce response time and control blazes across the city. “The fire brigade arrives late. That’s the grouse of the people whenever there is a fire in the city. We are helpless because our outdated fleet is not in sync with the times, reducing response time at every juncture,” said a senior officer of the Bengal fire and emergency services department. “Not any more, hopefully,” he added.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will unveil the latest gadgets of the department on Friday.
Metro takes a look at the new acquisitions.
HOW MANY: 36
COST: Rs 2.18 crore
A first for Calcutta, Royal Enfield Bullets fitted with a battery of firefighting contraptions (see picture) in the rear. Two detachable extinguishers filled with 9.3litre of water and 0.7litre of foam are placed on either side of the bike. If needed, these can be detached and carried in a backpack to a fire zone.
Two smaller carbon dioxide cylinders are fitted behind the extinguishers. Besides, a hooter and a public address system will help the fireman clear his path.
These motorbikes will be in the front line of the city’s fight against any blaze. The bikes will help the fire brigade reduce response time. “The bikes will come in handy to tackle smaller fires inside narrow lanes and bylanes. A small fire turns big and goes out of control by the time our trucks reach the spot. The bikes will be quicker and arrest such fires from spreading, thereby reducing damage to property,” a fire service officer said.
Control room GPS
All the fire trucks will be monitored via GPS from the department’s control room on Free School Street. “If the person at the control room notices a fire engine taking a wrong route, he will immediately alert the driver. It will also assist in locating nearest police stations, hospitals and water sources near a fire zone,” the officer said.
What the officer didn’t say was that the technology would help keep an eye on errant firemen who don’t show up after refilling their trucks. Once the system is up, the SOS call from a site will be automatically recorded. Currently, entries are made manually.
HOW MANY: 20
Cost: Rs 41 lakh
Firemen have to work in pitch darkness and in dangerous situations since power supply is cut off during a fire. Sometimes emergency lights don’t work because supply points are not available at vantage spots. Absence of light becomes a major hurdle.
The portable inflatable emergency light towers will take care of such situations. These towers come with in-built generators, blowers and high-power lamps. These can be carried anywhere to illuminate a site. Until now, the fire brigade depended on police for these lamps.
HOW MANY 20
Cost: Rs 3 lakh each
TIME NEEDED TO OPERATE: 20-25 seconds
Portable extinguishers that a fireman can carry on his back to remote parts of a fire zone. “These will take care of the inaccessible nooks and crannies, significantly reducing pressure on the main fire-fighting unit operating the big hoses,” said the officer.
The cylinder’s pressure can be read in a gauge while the nozzle has both jet and spray options.
HOW MANY: 40
Cost: Rs 1 crore
A self-sustained breathing apparatus to help firefighters enter any smoke-filled room and rescue people holed up there. “Since the apparatus will not depend on any immobile reservoir of oxygen to feed them, the firefighters will have unhindered access to a fire zone without risking suffocation from smoke. It will help execute evacuation plans,” the officer said.
HOW MANY: 18
Cost: Rs 20 lakh each
Mid-sized fire trucks have been procured to enter the city’s narrow lanes that are off limits for big tenders.
Though the department had inducted a few minis into its fleet, they are not enough to fight the rising incidents of blazes in the congested pockets. “The crammed central business district witnesses frequent fires. The mid-sized fire engines are ideal in such areas,” the officer said.