Monday, April 29, 2013

5 fire command centres lie unused, littered, vandalised

After a pathetic show in emergency operations during the 26/7 deluge, the fire department planned six fancy command centres to cut down response time 8 years and many crores later, only one is in use, while others are a picture of neglect

April 29, 2013

Vinod Kumar Menon

In the wake of the July 2005 deluge, the fire department decided to learn from its mistakes. Drawing up lofty and elaborate plans was easy no less than six state-of-the-art command centres were to dot the length and breadth of the city.

The unused command centre at Mankhurd has been reduced to a dumping ground for locals; some of the windowpanes have also been broken Pics/Suresh KK

The rationale offered for this expensive project was that the availability of fire-fighters and their equipment at close reach would cut down response time miraculously to anything between seven and 15 minutes, in the event of another catastrophe. Eight years have passed since, and the passage of time seems to have eroded that grand vision of six bustling, well-equipped emergency centres. Of the six planned centres, only one is operational in Wadala.

The crumbling facade of the Marol fire station, which houses the still-under-construction command centre. Pic/Rane Ashish
The other five are a picture of neglect, amounting to little more than waste of the taxpayer’s money. While the structures are ready, their interiors remain deserted, lacking the faintest signs of infrastructure there are no control rooms or furniture, leave alone fire-fighting equipment and rescue vehicles. The BMC is yet to issue occupation certificates (OC) to any of these five structures.

The command centre in Borivli (West) lies deserted, waiting to be fitted with amenities and handed over to the fire department for use. Pic/Kiran Bhalerao
“These structures have been lying empty and unprotected, inviting urchins and local slum dwellers to use the premises to dump waste. Windowpanes have been broken at the Mankhurd centre. Encroachers have littered all over the premises,” confirmed a fire officer. According to fire officials, the need for regional command centres were first felt during the 26/7 deluge, when rescue teams could not reach the suburbs from their city headquarters, owing to intense waterlogging.

Of the 6 command centres that were planned back in 2005, only the one at Wadala is operational so far. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Six zones were then marked out, and a command centre allotted to each of them at Byculla and Wadala in the city, at Borivli and Marol in the western suburbs, and at Mankhurd and Vikhroli in the eastern suburbs. Asked why these structures weren’t being protected, the officer simply said, “While crores have been spent on construction, neither the corporation nor the fire department felt the need to appoint private security guards to protect them.”

Windowpanes have been broken at the Mankhurd command centre. Encroachers from nearby slums have also littered all over the premises. Pic/Suresh KK
Needless to say, the money for erecting these buildings has come from the taxpayers. Authorities had quoted an estimate of Rs 4 crore to set up the Byculla command centre, but over time, the figure shot up to Rs 15 crore. The new estimate is 10 times the original at Rs 40 crore, with work still far from complete.

The centre at Byculla, built to send help to spots within the city. Pic/Datta Kambhar
Chief Fire Officer SV Joshi said, “It is the need of the hour to have six command centres for better administrative functioning of the department, but until the entire work is completed, we can’t use the structures for operations.” He refused to offer an estimated date by which they would be ready for use, adding, “As the fire chief, I can only make recommendations to the corporation.

The centre at Vikhroli, which was to cater to the eastern suburbs. Pic/Sameer Markande
The municipal architect is handling the project. The building proposal department works out the estimated cost and appoints contractors as per the budgetary provisions. I am not an engineer and have no role to play till the structure is officially handed over to the fire department.”
Grand plans
When the six regional command centres do start, a deputy chief fire officer will head operations at each of them. He will be leading a team of divisional and assistant fire officers, with a sufficient number of firemen working under their command. The command centre, apart from having two communication systems and a control room, will be equipped with six to seven fire engines, rescue vans, ambulances and rescue equipment.
In case of a major fire or flood, the deputy chief fire officer will be at the helm of affairs, mobilising the team and deciding whether to rope in additional manpower and vehicles from fire stations under his regional command centre. He need not wait for instructions or orders from the chief fire officer or the central control room, which is the norm at present. This would help cut down response time substantially.
One would do?
M V Deshmukh, director of Maharashtra Fire and Emergency Services and advisor to the state government, said, “In advanced cities like New York, Chicago and London, fire departments only have one command centre, which in Mumbai we call a fire control room, situated in Byculla. However, the developed countries are using hi-tech fire fighting equipment, while we still use the conventional fire-fighting equipment.”
He added, “Even other metropolitan cities like Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and mini-metros like Bangalore and Hyderabad which cover more geographical territory have only a single command centre each. The corporate world is already following the flat organisational structure. By setting up regional command centres, the fire department would only become a tall organisation, which would lead to unwanted hierarchy within the fire force.”