Playing with fire: Karachi needs 206 fire stations, it only has 22

Fire department has an allocated budget of Rs140 million but has little to show for it.


Fire department has an allocated budget of Rs140 million but has little to show for it. DESIGN: TALHA AHMED KHAN

KARACHI:


In a city of over 20 million, at least 206 fire stations are needed to deal with any hazards. Unfortunately, Karachi has only 22.


Moreover, the city needs at least 200 fire tenders but it has a mere 43. These dismal figures were shared by MBA students at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), who carried out a study to highlight the lack of fire fighting arrangements in the metropolis as part of their university project.


The study compares fire safety standards in Karachi to those of several developed cities around the world. It came as no surprise that Karachi fell behind the developed cities in most area and what was remarkable was gap in facilities it possesses. Adjusted for population, Karachi needs almost 10,000 more fire safety personnel to meet the ratio of London — a city that boasts of having six times the number of safety personnel in Karachi and 25 times the number of fire units.


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Hope falls from the sky

One of the main problems the city faces when it comes to fire hazards, is the response time, the study noted. Ali Ahmed, one of the researchers, told The Express Tribune that fire tends to spread exponentially and can get out of control in less than three minutes. There are nearly 16,500 deaths and 164,000 injuries due to fire in the country every year, he pointed out, adding that slow response times can be disastrous when so many lives are being affected by fire. His team decided to find out what can be done to avoid this.


“Due to traffic congestion and the vast area that each fire station has to cover, the fire is out of control by the time the tenders arrive,” another researcher Alina Najam pointed out. “That is where aerial relief can be vital.”


The researchers agreed, however, that providing aerial relief is not an easy task. “The service requires specific helicopters that can carry water and the pilots require special training and licences,” said Najam.


The team of five researchers approached a private company, Princely Jets, to take on this project. The company officials claimed they have the resources and the expertise to provide this service but they have been disappointed by the public sector’s response. “We have the equipment and our pilots have been given the required training,” said Princely Jets sales manager Mudassir Siddiqui. “We can start providing these services from tomorrow but not many people seem interested at the moment.”


Where is the money?

The country suffers an estimated loss of Rs400 billion every year due to fire hazards and yet no national fire safety policy has been implemented. A policy was drafted by the National Disaster Management Authority, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, but it has been pending approval for three years now.


This year, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation announced a budget of Rs140 million for the fire department but this generous allocation has yet to materialise — the central fire station in the city has only one complete protective gear for its workers.


“The complete gear is only for display and has been donated to the department,” revealed another researcher Noman Khalid. He added that firefighters are often seen wearing kurta shalwar with helmets and leather boots when they go to fighting fire, the researchers claim.


This claim was later refuted by the chief fire officer, Ehtishamuddin Siddiqui, who insisted that all the firefighters are given proper gear. He did not hesitate to add, however, that the number of fire stations is alarmingly low. When asked who should be held accountable for the lack of fire stations, Siddiqui had no response. “You are asking the wrong person,” was all he could muster.


The IBA researchers pointed out that the Karachi Building Control Authority is the organisation that sets fire safety regulations but there is no monitoring and implementation. Due to a lack of strict monitoring, these regulations are seen as mere guidelines.


Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2013.

COMMENTS (2)

Usman Dawood | 7 years ago | Reply

Assalam o Alekum

Nice article. I would like to get in touch with the persons involved in this research as I am into safety training and consultancy.

Looking forward to get a positive response.

Thanks and Regards

for The OHS Consultants Ltd Usman Dawood Barry Lead Trainer

Aman | 7 years ago | Reply

May I relate an incident which took place a few months ago whereby our factory caught fire in an industrial area in Karachi. Some points to note:

firefighters had no knowledge of how to extinguish a chemical fire and sprayed water on it further spreading the fire The fire tenders suction pumps did not work When they called other fire tenders from a different part of the city, the tyres were punctured so we had to wait for hours while the fire raged on Fire tenders had no water and we had to arrange everything ourselves Fire department had absolutely NO foam. They admitted they get some allocated in the budget but sell it on to the market and divide the money amongst themselves. Whilst the fire was raging on inside, they decided to take a 2 hour long Iftar, ignoring our cries for help and having the audacity to ask for more biryani and soft drinks. Despite being unable to extinguish the fire, they blackmailed us into paying them hundreds of thousands of rupees for their 'services'

After having been witness to such callousness, I have decided not to move back to a country with such pathetic people where there is no regard for others unless you have political backing. Good luck to Pakistanis still out there but I've lost hope. May Britain rule over us again and get rid of these idiots running our social services.

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