After hospital tragedies, Supriya Sule to CM: Set up Maharashtra Fire Control Force
Baramati MP and senior NCP leader Supriya Sule has raised the issue of lack of Fire Brigade services in rural areas of the state and demanded setting up of a Maharashtra Fire Control Force on the lines of the State Reserve Police Force to tackle fire incidents. She has raised the demand in the wake of multiple fire incidents in hospitals in Maharashtra which has claimed the lives of scores of Covid-19 patients.
In a letter to the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Sule said, “The recent incidents of fire in hospitals at Bhandara and Bhandup, and the Fashion Street Market of Pune Cantonment have resulted in the loss of life and damage to property. Forest fires and fires on standing crops such as sugarcane have become common across the state. Our government must establish strong institutions and standard protocols for the prevention and containment of different types of fires.”
Pointing out that there was no fire brigade service in rural areas, Sule said the Maharashtra Assembly had enacted the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006. “Today each municipal corporation/ council and metropolitan regional development authorities have set up their fire brigades for urban and peri-urban areas. But there are no fire brigades with Zilla Parishads or Gram Panchayats for rural areas. The Forest department maintains a limited number of fire engines to contain forest fires. There is also no standardisation in the implementation of fire audit protocols across the state and in the places that have fire brigades, they are understaffed and their officials are poorly trained. The upkeep of equipment is poor due to small budgets and competing priorities in urban local bodies.”
Urging the government to empower the Director of Fire Safety and raise a Maharashtra Fire Control Force, Sule said, “The Maharashtra Fire Control Force could be headed by an officer of the Indian Police Service cadre of the rank and scale of director general of police by adding more responsibility to the position of DG (Civil Defence). All the fire brigades in the state could be brought under his command… Police patils, civil defense and gram suraksha dal volunteers could be given basic training and simple fire fighting equipment to enable them to immediately respond and also to contain minor fires.”
“The Director could report to the Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra, Relief and Rehabilitation department. The directorate could consist of officials drawn from departments of town planning, municipal administration, rural development, accounts and treasury and forest. The directorate could also be given the responsibilities of implementing the unified DCPS rules concerning fire safety, empanelment of agencies to conduct fire audits, centralised filing of fire audit reports of buildings and industries, collection of annual tariffs that are levied by local bodies for fire safety and creating awareness safety,” she said.
Sule said the cost of raising the Maharashtra Fire Control Force would be low as the proposed force would be taking over the manpower and the capital assets of existing fire brigades across the state. “The proposed posts of… state cadres could be created after a cadre review to identify under-utilised positions such that no new positions have to be created and also there is an increase in the utilisation of existing officials…”.
“We could propose to the Union government to enact policies that mandate compulsory fire insurance for certain types of buildings. Once the Maharashtra Fire Control force is established, we could seek a share in the premiums collected on fire insurance,” she said.
In the wake of the Bhandara Hospital fire tragedy in January this year, state Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation Vijay Wadettiwar had expressed the need for an advanced fire fighting system in rural areas. None of the 34 zilla parishads in Maharashtra has a fire brigade at their disposal. In case a fire breaks out in a rural area, the fire brigade has to be summoned from the nearby municipal council or municipal corporation. It causes a delay in fire-fighting activities as civic bodies are located far away from rural areas, said a government official.
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Retired government officials said Sule’s suggestion to set up a Maharashtra Fire Control Force should be seriously considered by the government. “… The Directorate of Fire is a powerless body. We should have a powerful body on the lines of the State Reserve Police Force at the helm to tackle fires,” said K C Karkar, former additional collector of Pune.
A top government official from the Fire department said, “A central command with accountability and authority will go a long way in bringing down incidents of fire in the state.”