In Nayagarh district of Odisha, five houses continued to burn on Monday night as firefighters refused to carry out their duties, citing an ongoing strike across the state.
Fire personnel called the indefinite strike on Monday, following which more than 5000 firemen, havildars, drivers joined the protests.
Akhyay Pradhan, fire officer in the Cuttack unit, said the demands by the striking personnel include salaries on par with the state police after implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission, regularisation of 1,100 contractual employees, and disbursal of pension of retired employees.
Sources in the Home Department — which oversees the service —- said they were hoping the state government does not have to invoke the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1988 (ESMA). “The strike may be called off in a couple of days, as we continue negotiations. Not all the personnel on strike are equally adamant about all demands,” said an officer from the department.
At Srirampur in Daspalla block of Nayagarh, the families surveyed their gutted houses, lamenting that they were unable to salvage a single item. “We kept calling the local fire unit, but no one responded,” a villager said.
In Mayurbhanj district’s Dakoi village, under Morda block, three-year-old Pratish Mahakud drowned in a well while playing near it on Monday afternoon. The family members told the media that they called local fire service, but the personnel did not respond due to the agitation.
Meanwhile, senior fire officers were trying to douse fires. “The officer-staff ratio in the department is very low. Some fire service units do not even have a supervising officer,” said an official in the fire department. “In this situation, people of the rank of DSP, deputy and assistant fire officers are driving vehicles and dousing fires, but they cannot be everywhere.”
The Home Department said it has pressed other units, such as Home Guards and Civil Defence, to fill in for the fire personnel on strike. “These personnel are not as trained as fire service staff,” said a senior officer from the Fire Department.