After a three-hour operation, the two fire tenders finally reached Keshavpuram fire station. The lone fire operator opened a box of sweets but the men barely had the strength to eat and sat silently taking deep breaths. As per the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) data, 271 calls were received in Delhi out of which 256 were fire-related incidents. In 2017, the number was down at 204, while in 2016, 243 calls were made.
On Diwali this year, the Keshavpuram fire station received maximum calls from across the capital — 23.
The Indian Express spoke to the firefighters at the station who pulled in 72 hours shifts, and spent their Diwali fighting fires in factories, residential colonies, tree lines and garbage dumps. Out of the 23 calls, a majority were regarding fire on garbage dumps. With just seven Breathing Apparatus Sets (BAS) for a staff of 30, fire fighters spent peak hours (6 pm-9 pm) on Diwali putting out fires, and breathing in toxic fumes.
The first fire call was made at 12.03 am, when unidentified men set a few brooms on fire in Rishi Nagar. In under 30 minutes, another call was made regarding a fire that broke at a garbage dump.
“People use Diwali as a cover to set fire to garbage dumps. We’ve made reports of all such calls and have sent it to the MCD. If a firefighter inhales toxic fumes even once while fighting a garbage dump fire, he would have taken in a year’s worth of polluted air. They just take deep breaths and try not to breathe,” said Keshavpuram station in-charge Rajeev Sinha.
The third call on Diwali night was about a fire inside a fibre-sheet unit caused by a miscued rocket. Even though DFS immediately left for the spot with two fire tenders in tow, the address they had was wrong.
“This happens sometimes… we were given the wrong block,” said a fire operator. By the time, the fire tenders reached the unit, it was up in flames. A fire operator gained entrance with a sledgehammer and held a water hose for over two hours till the fire was doused.”
Suresh Chander (55), a driver with DFS, spent most of his time stuck in traffic as he attended over five fire calls on Diwali. “People think that we always reach late. They throw stones at us and snatch our fire hose when we reach late,” Chander said.
The station in-charge has asked his superiors to give them GPS-installed LED screens inside the vehicles for better navigation. When a fire broke out at a house in Tri Nagar, the fire fighters faced another uphill task. “When we tried to reach the spot, we found parked vehicles blocking the way. The firemen got down and pushed all the vehicles to make way… This has been my life for the past 15 years,” Chander said.
For the next two hours, calls of fire in a factory, a park and a car bursting in flames were made. The fire tenders could not be deputed and other stations had to pitch in.
When some trees caught fire on Diwali evening at Jheel Park, 53-year-old fireman, RP Shahendra, spent his time sprinting a 90-metre distance with a 25 kg water hose after he failed to find a water source to connect the pipes. “We do not have a wireless set. The driver was located 90 metres away from the fire spot. I had to run back and forth adjusting the pressure of the hose,” he said.
Just when the firefighters thought their job was done after the last call came from a sock-making unit, the fire alarm buzzed again. This time, a fire broke out at an apartment — the firemen put on their uniforms once again, ate the sweets, and left.
“After this call my duty changes. Hopefully I will get a 24 hour rest,” said a fire operator.