The Telegraph
Tuesday , March 11 , 2014
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44-member fleet to fight fire, even in bylanes

- Relief for blazing infrastructure shortfall as new vehicles wait to be customised into tenders big and small

The infrastructure-strapped state fire department has now received a fleet boost to combat blaze.

A fleet of 42 brand-new vehicles, purchased by the state from Tata Motors, has arrived at the capital’s Dhurwa fire station-cum-training centre some days ago.

Of the chassis consignment, 28 will be customised to big fire tenders. The rest, which are small SUV formats, will be transformed into compact vehicles vital for congested bylanes and marketplaces, like say the Hazaribagh one, where 12 fruit shops were gutted on Monday.

The procurement process for new fleet began in 2013-end after state director-general (fire and homeguard) Asha Sinha gave its go-ahead.

State fire officer Mahanand Singh, at Dhurwa fire station to inspect the fleet on Wednesday, told The Telegraph that the department was in desperate need of new vehicles for firefighting.

“Though I cannot readily give exact figures of state fire tenders at work, many vehicles were grounded and phased out. We hope that from April the department can press these new vehicles,” said Singh.

He added vendor Tata Motors was chosen via tender.

“The vehicles need to be made fire-ready. We ordered the chassis first to get it customised to our needs. The chassis is the same for every big vehicle, which then gets converted into a bus, truck or caravan, depending on need. Tenders for fabrication and customisation have been floated,” he said, adding fabrication bidders include those from Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.

On the expense, Singh did not wish to give the amount.

“Let me look into the files,” he parried.

Another official gave a rough estimate.

“A big chassis costs anywhere between Rs 8-10 lakh a piece and fabrication of each vehicle around the same amount. So roughly, each big vehicle will cost between Rs 18-20 lakh and a small one around Rs 8-9 lakh.”

As far as firefighting resources in Jharkhand are concerned, the least said the better. Fire department sources conceded shortage in every sphere — stations, personnel, vehicles, equipment, including even basics like safety masks.

Currently, Jharkhand has some 31 fire stations, too few to cover whole state, including four in Ranchi.

“Ideally, there should be 150,” a fire department source said. “Even Ranchi, with four stations at Doranda, Piska, Audrey House and Dhurwa, needs four more, given the way the city has expanded after becoming the state capital. The department has prodded the state in this regard. In 2011, then chief minister Arjun Munda-led government gave cabinet nod to a dozen new fire stations and recruitment of 200 firemen. Due to land crunch, new fire stations appear a distant dream.”

A staff showed defunct vehicles grounded at Dhurwa fire station campus. “Ranchi fire department roughly has 15 vehicles, including big and small tenders. It’s a laughable number. We hardly have two to three small tenders. But, given our congested alleys, small tenders that can nimbly zip on them for rescue work are the need of the hour,” he said.

When asked, Singh played it safe.

“As a government official, I shouldn’t say anything bad. All I can say is that once new vehicles get assembled, they will be distributed in fire stations across the state,” he said.

What was he most looking forward to?

“The 14 small vehicles, which, when converted to tenders, will enable us reach narrow lanes like Upper Bazar in no time,” said Singh.

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