The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Space jam cramps blaze battle

If a fire breaks out in one-fourth of the streets in the city proper, fire engines will not be able to reach the blaze spot.

The reason — the approach roads are too narrow to allow the big, red vehicles through. And that’s official, according to a special blaze-battle study carried out by the fire services department.

“We undertook a project last August to synthesise all the information pertaining to fire management within Calcutta, through the Geographical Information System (GIS), with help from CMDA and the CMC. The project is almost complete,” said fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee.

The findings are enough to spark alarm in many of the 106 wards the project covered.

“The area surveyed has 2,050 roads with 14,098 patches, signifying road portions with differential widths. About 3,900 patches have net carriageways less than four metres, which, in effect, means that they are too narrow for fire engines to negotiate,” observed an expert associated with the project.

Thirteen wards, mainly in and around central Calcutta, have been identified as fire-prone on this count. These are wards 8, 9, 10, 17, 18, 22, 23, 27, 41, 42, 44, 48 and 50.

The project, named Kolkata Fire Service Data Management, with GIS, is the first of its kind in the country.

“Our major objectives include computerisation and synthesis of all information regarding possibilities of fire; zoning of the fire-prone areas; identification of the shortest possible routes from the fire station to the fire-prone points, and on-line training of fire personnel about the new technology,” said Tapas Ghatak, GIS expert and the project’s principal investigator from CMDA.

The database also includes information about fire stations, history of major fires in the last decade, markets and places of entertainment like cinema halls, number and status of hydrants and big-diameter tubewells, highrises, inflammable units and CESC transformers.

“We are particularly concerned about 192 markets and 164 cinemas, as these are vulnerable areas,” Ghatak added. The 4,000 CESC transformers and nearly 1,000 inflammable units in congested areas are also fear factors. And it’s not just the old, but also some ‘rapidly-developing’ areas of the city that fall in the fire-hazard category.

If things go according to plan, fire engines will have monitors to guide the driver about which route to take to get as close to the fire as fast possible.

Other recommendations include the use of smaller vehicles — maybe even the size of auto-rickshaws — to tackle fires on narrower roads and keeping at least two streets in each ward parking-free.

The fire services department, the CMC and traffic police are chalking out an implementation module. “But we will need Rs 1 crore to complete the computerisation and implement the recommendations,” said Chatterjee.

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