The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has started deputing staff at the emergency response centres, which were recently constructed under flyovers mainly as a way to put to use what they feel is wasted space.
At least three centres underneath the Jail Chowrangi, Samama Shopping market and KPT flyovers now have fire trucks for what officials say is to immediately react to emergencies in nearby areas.
"The idea is to respond to emergencies as quickly as possible," said Municipal Commissioner Matanat Ali Khan. "It is becoming increasingly difficult to reach a building, which has caught fire or someone injured on a road. The city is getting populated and we need to do something about it."
KMC has built at least nine emergency response centres underneath different flyovers where ambulances and city wardens will also be deputed besides the fire brigade staff.
A total of 50 centres would be built. This project is being supervised by Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad. KMC’s director for technical services Altaf G Memon said that cooperation of other departments is important for the success of the project. "It would be useless if we didn’t have fire brigades and ambulances." Construction of flyovers over the years has altered the look of Karachi. Town planning experts have criticized them not just because they are not necessarily a solution to mass transit but also because they so radically change a neighbourhood.
Up till now only three fire brigades have been provided by the fire department. KMC is short of ambulances and has asked privately run welfare organisations for support. Some people affiliated with the project say the authorities need to seriously work out an action plan if the centres are to be made sustainable. Previous attempts had failed.
The idea to have such services available underneath the flyovers is not new. It was tried once before when a fire truck was stationed near the Federal Urdu Science University below the flyover but was removed after a few months. An already understaffed and ill-equipped fire brigade department says its resources have been stretched. The fire department has a total of 45 fire trucks. Many of them are out of order and most of the 21 stations spread across the city have only one at their disposal.
"Now you have removed that one fire tender from the station and relocated it to a flyover,” a fireman said, pointing out that for this change to be workable their broken wireless systems should at least be fixed. Firemen have a lot of trouble taking calls while parked underneath the flyovers.
“If a fire breaks out, the affected people will call the head office, which in turn will inform our station before we are informed on the cell phone to head to that location,” one official said. Even though the rescue centers are properly built, the firemen are obviously not keen on being parked underneath a flyover when their fire stations have traditionally been their home away from home. “One of the biggest problems which we’ll face would be refilling water. There is no facility at the emergency centres,” the fireman pointed out.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.