LAHORE - The Lahore Fire Brigade Department has long been neglected, making it incapable of properly serving a metropolitan of more than 10 million people.

The department has 233 staff at 12 stations, where 16 vehicles are ‘parked’ to meet fire emergencies.

But it is the Rescue 1122 which has been bearing much of the burden of fire emergencies for last many years. However, tending the fires has been consuming the resources and energies that should have been utilised on other rescue operations.

This duplication of function is unavoidable but it must not be made an excuse to make Fire Brigade irrelevant or simply abolish it.

Lahore is a mega city now, with high-rises spread over a huge urban expanse. This requires modern fire tending techniques and equipment.

Despite the geographic expansion, the population explosion has deeply affected the Walled City too where multi-storey buildings have sprang up in narrow lanes, which are hardly penetrable and make things too difficult in case of fire emergencies.

This is why a dedicated fire service is needed ever than before. All over the world, the fire departments continue to exist and serving vibrantly side by side the modern rescue services for the same reason.

More than two dozen people, mostly workers, were burnt alive in the 2012 factory fire on Bund Road, prompting politicians both from government and opposition to show up with pledges to ‘do their best’ to avert such a disaster.

The following year, the government came under fire when the LDA plaza blaze left eight people dead.

Two years later, the Anarkali fire claimed more than a dozen lives and left scores with burns while cost millions to the traders of noted market of the Punjab capital.

The same year, the Ichhra plaza blaze took a life and wounded over a dozen. Similar incidents are being reported but authorities have been dragging their feet over the matter.

The firemen in Lahore started either leaving the Fire Brigade Department for ‘good’ or have been waiting for their retirement since the launch of the Rescue 1122 (Punjab Emergency Service) in 2004.

An official said the department was manned by 455 staffers in 2004. It had 39 firefighters – the men who fight fires on the frontline - in 2007 but now there are only 13 of them, another official said. The department had 88 drivers while the number stands 36 now, it is learnt.

Recruitment to the Lahore Fire Brigade was banned in 2007 and since then nominal funds have been allocated for the firemen.

“Rescuers are backed by firemen in any case of emergency,” said Fire Brigade Incharge Munir Ahmed Khan. He, however, regretted that the authorities never heeded to better the brigade.

He added: “The government should take notice of this serious situation. DCO Muhammad Usman did his best to take up the issue with department concerned but to no avail.”

Desperate Munir, who is also president of Punjab Fire Brigade Union said: “Either Punjab government should either offer golden handshake or revive this (sensitive) department.”

“The department has been running without fire officers of admin and operations wing since 2005 and 2012 respectively. Since the launch of Rescue 1122, the funds for the Fire Brigade Department were diverted to the emergency service,” he said.

Head Fireman Mazhar Bashir Bhatti also rued that such a sensitive department has been neglected by authorities. “We were the most experienced staff to fight fire, but that’s talk of the past,” he said. “The government wants to culminate the department and they are using these tactics,” a driver said. 

A spokesman for the City District Government said the DCO had forwarded a note to lift the ban on recruitment to the department. “We are fully aware of the situation,” he added.