Mysuru needs more Fire Stations
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Mysuru needs more Fire Stations

January 6, 2024

Today at 2.45 am, I was woken up by a loud sound that shook me to my core. It was the apartment’s fire alarm!

The word ‘alarm’ is too mellow a word to describe the decibel level a fire ‘siren’ makes. It has a quality that triggers a sense of ‘urgency and panic.’ It is so loud and ‘panic-inducing’ that it pushes you to get out of the building. So, I did. But no one else did.

As I started going downstairs, I wondered if I was dreaming. Why? Because no one else in the building had stepped out of their apartment.

As I went down, there was another family there. We wondered if everyone else had evacuated so fast that we were the last. But it was not. No one else cared for the alarm, it seems.

We looked around, sniffed around, and figured there was no fire anywhere. We pressed the silence button and went back to sleep.

I was shocked that none of my fellow residents responded to the fire alarm like I did. I thought they assumed that safety systems in India are just for show, meant to get clearance certificates? Or, I figured maybe they trust their ‘nostril alarm’ more than the ‘fire alarm’ — if they sniff smoke, they’ll get out.

We have developed a culture that completely disregards our safety and others, too — from driving up a one-way street to riding a bullock cart down the wrong side of a highway, from disregarding building fire safety norms to not checking the safety ratings of cars. The fact that the Government has to penalise us to wear a helmet to protect our own heads is a testament to that casualness towards safety.

Then again, the Government itself puts its citizens in harm’s way by building flyovers that collapse and open manholes that devour pedestrians.

As the fire alarm went off in my apartment, and it was screaming for a while, I realised that the fire trucks had not come. Unlike the West, the fire alert system is not connected to a fire station in India.

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In the West, when smoke sets off a fire alarm or if someone pulls the fire alarm lever, a message is sent to a central monitoring station where an operator immediately notifies the appropriate local fire department.

In Mysuru, we have to call the emergency number # 101 (now integrated to 112, India’s all-in-one emergency helpline number). An operator will take your location and then call the closest fire brigade to attend to your emergency. But the problem is, Mysuru doesn’t have enough fire stations.

India has a serious shortage of fire stations. In 2017, it was reported that India needed over 9,000 fire stations. Even today, we have just over 2,500! Karnataka needs 377 stations; we have 182.

Our city has four fire stations: Saraswathipuram, Bannimantap, Hebbal and at Reserve Bank of India (RBI) campus.

Out of these, part of Saraswathipuram Fire Station has collapsed due to rains and still has not been rebuilt, and the RBI Fire Station will be lent for usage only  if other fire stations are unable to handle the fire.

As Infosys donated Hebbal Fire Station and RBI belongs to the Central Government to be used exclusively for RBI, our State Government has given Mysuru just two fire stations in all the decades of our city’s existence and growth!

Worse of the two that the State gave us, one has collapsed.

Mysuru is growing rapidly as industries and residential layouts mushroom throughout the city. It is the responsibility of Mysuru Urban Development Authority (MUDA) to plan our city. But is it doing it? NO. MUDA is not learning anything from what has happened in Bengaluru.

MUDA should immediately allocate a certain dimension of land for fire stations for a cluster of 10 residential layouts, or it will end up like Bengaluru.

The urban planners of Bengaluru didn’t realise that as Bengaluru grew, they needed to acquire land to put up fire stations, but they did not. And today, Bengaluru has no place to put up fire stations in new areas!

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Though Bengaluru has approval for eight new fire stations, only three are expected to be ready by the end of 2024 — Yelahanka, Sarjapur and Hulimavu. The other five? There is no guarantee as the process of land acquisition is yet to take place.

Here is another shocker. Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) today has its sophisticated fire-fighting system, but initially, when the airport was being built, there was no fire station. Fire engines had to rush from the Chikkaballapur or Hebbal Fire Stations to the KIA in case of a major fire… and these stations were situated more than 20 kms away from the airport.

While the KIA has taken care of its firefighting needs, Devanahalli, which now houses a Special Economic Zone and IT parks, still does not have a fire station. The helpless Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services Department has now requested the KIA to give them some space.

Mysore Airport, too, has its own fire service with two trucks and firemen present at all times. But the area around it will have to wait for a while before a fire brigade arrives all the way from Bannimantap if the one in APMC Yard refuses to oblige.

Fire hazards will increase as our cities get populated, and buildings get closer and taller. While we demand public buildings and apartments have sprinklers, fire hydrants and extinguishers, it is time for even independent houses to take fire safety measures.

Maybe it is time to keep a small canister of fire extinguisher handy, and if you are living in an apartment, have fire drills once a year.

PS: Following are the contact numbers of Fire Brigade Stations in Mysuru —  Saraswathipuram Fire Station (Ph: 0821-2540970); Bannimantap Fire Station (Ph: 0821-2495101) and Hebbal Fire Station (Ph: 0821-2512101).

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