CDA can’t handle fire

ISLAMABAD, Sept 12: As the horror of 300 deaths in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore sinks in, questions are being raised on the ability of local civic agencies to contain such incidents.

Dawn’s investigations show that if such a fire were to break out in Islamabad, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) would be ‘ill prepared’ to deal with it.

“The civic authority lacks both sound logistical support and adequate information on the Industrial Triangle Area, Kahuta Road,” confessed a high-ranking CDA official, adding that “the authority is clueless about the different types of chemicals being used in factories, blueprints of building structures and the workforce strength”.

Going into details, he told Dawn that even though the agency had imported vehicles and equipment from Sweden and Japan, most of it had fallen into disrepair.For instance, the CDA has four multi-million-dollar fire snorkels imported from Sweden, but only one of them is working.

“The other three have been in disuse for the past few months, and the board has not shown any interest in getting them fixed,” he said.

The Swedish fire tenders let firemen scale up heights of 68 metres and 29 metres respectively, and were imported specifically after the Shaheed-i-Millat Secretariat was burnt down in 2002 as no CDA vehicle had been able to reach the then tallest building in the city.

“Similarly, the aerial ladder truck imported from Japan to scale heights of 42 metres – sufficient to reach any building in Blue Area – has been out of order for the last five months,” the official revealed.

To aggravate matters, a number of operational double cabin vehicles of the Disaster Management Directorate (DMD) of the CDA have been given to blue-eyed officials of the chairman office.

“Four operational vehicles of the Disaster Management Directorate (DMD) meant to meet emergencies have been allocated to senior ranking officials on their requests,” added an administration wing official.

Another board member of the authority claimed that the DMD has been dormant of late.

“Rescue officials do not have logistical support: their long distance wireless system is inoperative, there is no proper resting spot, and tools and batteries are missing to conduct night-time rescue operations,” said the official.

But if the authority has been laid-back about averting disasters, businessmen with high stakes in the industrial area are equally guilty of the same.

In February this year, when the CDA had attempted to compile a database on the 700 industrial units operating in the federal capital territory, the response was cold.

The CDA had distributed Industrial Safety Forms to document the type of chemicals stored and used in production processes in the industrial units, which range from steel mills, flour mills, food processing units, building material industries, pharmaceutical companies to hardware and electric appliances manufacturing industries and large-sized warehouses.

“It was not just a hazard mapping survey for the industries but it was meant at limiting the loss of property and human life in industrial areas. Our intention was to secure their unit against the dangers of fire from hazardous chemicals,” said a DMD official.

“The CDA management and the businessmen both were not interested since the industrialists feared that an entry into their factories will open doors for CDA building control and urban planning mafia to mint money,” said one industrialist.

However, the CDA official added: “There was a management change at the DMD in Dec 2011 and no official was willing to work on creative lines and modern disaster management techniques.”

The CDA spokesman, Masoodur Rehman, when approached for comments, admitted that: “Snorkels at Directorate of Disaster Management are out of order.”

He said since spare parts of these snorkels were not available in the local market, the authority was now in the process of releasing finances to import the spare parts.

The spokesman, however, failed to share any exact date as to how and when the Swedish fire tenders would be made operational.

Mr Rehman insisted that their only operational fire tender was enough to meet any untoward fire incident in the city.

“In case of a major disaster, we can seek help from Rawalpindi fire department,” the official added.

Regarding failure of the authority to conduct a survey of industrial areas in the capital city, the spokesman said: “They had surveyed 60 per cent high-rise buildings in view of the preventive measures needed to avert fire incidents. Survey of the industrial areas is under process and would take some time.”

The spokesman however, could not share any figures with Dawn regarding the survey of houses or industries completed by CDA’s disaster management directorate.