Taking lessons from the recent fire tragedy that claimed the lives of 22 students, the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) has decided build a new fire station in Varachha, equipped with vehicles capable of reaching high-rises, and recruit 500 volunteers.
The new fire station at Punagam area in Varachha will come up at an estimated cost of Rs 2.25 crore in an area of 289 square metres, officials said.
When the fire broke out on the rooftop of the Takshashila Arcade at Sarthana area on May 24, two fire extinguisher vehicles that could reach a height of 32 metres rushed to the spot from Mota Varachha and Kapodara but could not douse the fire on the top of the building at 50 metres. Later, two extinguisher vehicles with capacity to reach the height of 55 metres and 72 metres respectively, were called from faraway Katargam and Adajan areas. However, it was too late.
At present, the Surat fire department has 17 fire stations across the city, which has a population of around 60 lakh.
There are 962 fire staffers against an approved strength of 1,056 and they work in three shifts. In view of this, the SMC fire department will hire 500 volunteers on the lines of Friends of Police, Surat, and give them free training in rescue operations. The volunteers, between 18 and 40 years of age, will be trained by the fire department and their work will be honorary, officials said.
Basant Pareek, SMC Chief Fire Officer, said, “We will make different groups of these volunteers and train them in emergency services. The training will be given at local fire stations in different batches. The services of these trained people will be sought during emergencies. We will do the medical examination of the volunteers who will work under the local fire officer.”
Pareek added they will use social media to coordinate the work. “We will send videos and messages related to fire incidents and rescue operations every day through WhatsApp groups that will be formed after one-week training of the volunteers. This will reduce the work load on the fire department,” said the officer.
Sources in the fire department said that among 17 fire stations in Surat city, nine do not have fire officers. Four officers, Abhijeet Gadhvi from Kosad fire station, Rakesh Shah from Bhestan, Anirudh Gadhvi from Mota Varachha and Bhavesh Raval from Palapur, resigned from the Surat fire department after the Taksahshila Arcade incident. They, however, have joined Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation as sub-fire officers.
Fire Officer Rasik Patel resigned from Majura fire station and another officer, Prakash Patel, will retire this month. Fire officer of Kapodara fire station, Kirti Modh, and his deputy S K Acharya were suspended for their alleged negligence and are in judicial custody in connection with the Takshashila Arcade case.
As per SMC data, the fire department received a total of 3,875 calls in 2018-2019, out of which 2,140 calls were related to fire incidents, in which the officials rescued 142 people. In the past five years, the fire department received 19,400 calls, out of which only 10,999 calls were related to fire and 643 lives were saved.