'My men must reach home safe'

'My men must reach home safe'

Delhi Fire Service chief A K Sharma
elaborates on the challenges faced by
the department which he says has the best firefighters and equipment in the country. He talks
to Vishnu Sukumaran. Excerpts:

Being the chief of the firefighting unit, what are the challenges that you face?

The average number of fire and rescue calls attended by my department is much more than any other fire service in the country. My primary task is to ensure that all my men whose lives are at stake return home safe and that they feel safe on the field. At spots of fire incidents, I want all the people who seek rescue to be evacuated as soon as possible. I also want to ensure that my team gets all modern-day equipment available in the market for firefighting operations.

What is the average response time to an emergency call?

Generally, it is less than five minutes. But sometimes it also depends on numerous factors. Most roads in central and old Delhi are narrow and congested, while most roads in other parts of the Capital are usually hit by traffic jams. So, sometimes, by the time we reach the spot, the blaze would already be out of control. A solution for this can be better coordination with the traffic police. We have also proposed getting a feed from IP (internet protocol)-enabled cameras of the Delhi government’s ‘Eye in the Sky’ project. The feed from the cameras, one of which is presently mounted atop the New Delhi Municipal Corporation headquarters near Jantar Mantar, could help in detecting a fire within its range even before being reported.

What types of personal protective clothing and gear are given to firefighters?

During serious firefighting operations, it is compulsory for our staff to wear khaki-coloured one-piece asbestos suits, which are made of aluminium and fire-retardant material. They are also provided helmets, breathing apparatus, gloves and gumboots. But in Delhi where the temperature soars with high humidity during summer, it is impossible to put on heavy protective suits as in western countries. Their clothing and gear are heavier than the ordinary ones. So, asbestos suits are usually not worn for minor incidents reported to us.

What compensation and training are provided to firefighters?

Our men are entitled to recieve monetary compensation, including an extra month’s salary, for the hard work they put in. They also get more casual leave and various allowances, which an ordinary government employee does not enjoy. On training methods, we don’t have a defined set-up. However, we do provide self-motivation programmes to ensure job efficiency.

Is the equipment owned by the fire department comparable to that of western countries?

I can guarantee that we have the best firefighting equipment available in the market. As you know, there is always scope for improvement. So I personally try to make sure that our equipment is updated regularly. We also have a modern fleet of vehicles equipped with the the latest technology. I can confidently claim that we have adequate manpower, equipment and resources to be the best fire department in the country.

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