Strange it may look, but the Fire Department in Chandigarh is headed by a bureaucrat who has no expertise in firefighting and is saddled with several other important responsibilities. This has been the state of affairs for the last seven years.
Sources said that till 2004, the city had a regular chief fire officer. From 2004 to 2007, additional charge of CFO was given to Station Fire Officer G S Bajwa. Thereafter, the post has been held by bureaucrats, coming from Punjab and Haryana on deputation to the municipal corporation.
At present, PCS officer Sunil Bhatia holds the charge of CFO. Bhatia’s main posting is additional commissioner of the MC, and his charge includes the enforcement branch, IT branch, legal cell, establishment, parking and licensing branch.
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How much time he can spare to do justice to his job as CFO is anybody’s guess. But the mess in the fire department is obvious. Only three of the seven fire stations in the city have station officers and the fire brigade remains ill-equipped.
A Fire Department official said that the firefighting operation in Sector 17 on Sunday could have been handled better if an official with technical knowledge was at the helm of affairs. In order to plan and conduct an operation, someone with the knowledge of firefighting was required which was not the case.
The official said that in the absence of a professional CFO, the needs and demands of the Fire Department and its personnel were not getting the attention these deserved.
However, the attitude of senior officials to the issue is casual. Home Secretary Anil Kumar said, “For handling the administrative work, there is a need for having a bureaucrat at the helm of affairs. We can explore the possibility of appointing someone from the Fire Department as CFO.”
He added that no expertise was visible during the firefighting operation in Sector 17. “The firefighters did not wear protective gear. There were basic flaws in firefighting, the firemen did not use common sense,” said the Home Secretary.
But a Fire Department official countered, “Why does the administration not appoint a bureaucrat in place of IG to head the police and another as chief engineer to manage the construction work?’’
Deputy Mayor Davesh Moudgil agreed that there was a need for technical expertise to manage the Fire Department. “The charge of CFO is a sensitive one. A bureaucrat is not as capable as a technical person. The charge should be handed over to a suitable person from the Fire Department immediately.”