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There are two opinions on what could have happened to Fareeduddin. One is that his body was moulded to the three bodies that were recovered and the other is that his body was completely burnt away. And while bones usually survive fires, it is unlikely that any could have remained in this one. The temperature in the fire is estimated to have been over 1,500 degrees Celsius as it melted the firefighter’s helmets that can survive up to that point.

For the first time in the history of the fire brigade department, a record number of 11 firefighters have died in three different fires over the course of ten months, raising questions on the internal management of the department.

For a population of about 20 million in Karachi, there are 760 firefighters who operate out of 21 fire stations with 27 tenders. According to fire department sources, internal politics, a lack of resources and political pressures have taken their toll on the department which comes under the administrative control of the City District Government Karachi (CDGK).

The fire department’s full strength, including firefighters, is 954 out of which 885 are operational staff such as firefighters and drivers. Sources said that more than 100 trained fire fighters and special drivers for heavy tenders are working for different officers as their drivers, telephone operators and peons.

Out of 21 fire stations across Karachi, only four (Sohrab Goth, Orangi Town, SITE and Korangi) are in full working condition with their own water connections which other fire stations have to rely on. Four additional fire stations have been closed down due to a lack of water and vehicles. Currently, 23 fire tenders are out of order.

As not all fire stations have water connections, distances count in emergencies. For example, if the Mehmoodabad fire station engine needs water it would go to Korangi, the nearest station, which would take 2 to 2.5 hours. During the time that its tender goes off to fill up on water, the Mehmoodabad fire station has no other vehicle and a tender has to be called from another nearby station.

Around ten days ago, a fire broke out in a house in Bahadurabad whose family members called the fire department. The area came under the Manzoor Colony fire station but as its tender had gone for repairs the Saddar tender was dispatched. When this one broke down on Tariq Road another tender was from dispatched from the headquarters near Civil Hospital Karachi. But by the time that vehicle reached the scene a couple, who had locked themselves in the bathroom, was dead. The woman was four months pregnant.

During any operation two fire tenders are dispatched according to standard operating procedures, with one as backup. But this is not always possible due to the shortage of vehicles. But a shortage of resources isn’t the only problem the fire brigade department has to face. To complicate matters internal politics steps in along with outside political influences. Three groups are active in the department’s internal politics. Currently, there is a fight over who will become the chief fire officer. One group has rallied around former chief fire officer Kazim Ali, another around senior fire officer Ehtesham and the third one has links to the city nazim.

Ex-CFO Kazim Ali was suspended in November reportedly over a plot’s NOC dispute between the CDGK and the fire department. Charge was handed over the Deputy Chief Fire Officer Naeem Yousaf but when he was hospitalized Senior Fire Officer Ehtesham took over. When the SITE factory fire broke out on Monday, however, the city nazim ordered that Kazim Ali assume charge. Seven firefighters and two factory workers died in the blaze. And while Kazim was reinstated, Ehtesham was also still in charge and thus for three days there were two CFOs managing operations. That is, until upon the nazim’s directives Kazim Ali was suspended again.

No firefighter has life insurance and they are dependent on compensation cheques which the government may or may not give their families in case of death. This week, however, one family received Rs 500,000 in compensation for a firefighter’s death in Monday’s fire.

In the SITE fire on Monday, Nazimabad SFO Yasir Iqbal and his sub-fire officer Imtiazul Haq also died. Yasir Iqbal was the brother-in-law of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town Nazim Wasay Jalil who subsequently had the office of the SFO sealed at the station, sources said, adding that as a result the new Nazimabad SFO Tauheedur Rehman has to work out of the control room of the Nazimabad fire station instead of his office.

When Daily Times attempted to contact the city nazim for comment on these issues he was unavailable over the telephone.

(By Abbas Naqvi, Daily Times-B1, 22/01/2007)

Valuing our firefighters

ON Jan 16 all the country’s leading newspapers covered the news of the loss of eight precious lives, including six of firefighters, in a SITE garment factory inferno.

This was followed by the saddening news that those unfortunate firefighters didn’t even have proper insurance coverage which is considered mandatory in the developed world for all jobs that involves any kind of risk or hazard to that person.

These unsung heroes of our nation who risk their lives for saving ours never get the recognition they deserve as compared to their counterparts in the western world, where apart from being highly paid they are comprehensively insured against all kinds of risks.

The way 9/11 firefighters were recognised is a testament to their value to the nation where the family of each firefighter got anything from $875,000 to $ 4.1 million from the compensation fund, thus making them millionaires overnight.

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