Allahabad: A tent city is gradually emerging on the vast bank of the holy Ganga and Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati as part of preparations for the world's biggest religious gathering, the Ardh Kumbh Mela, scheduled to begin from 14 January in Allahabad. In bone-chilling temperatures that prevail during most of the Kumbh Mela period, sadhus, kalpavasis and other visitors depend majorly on campfires and wood-fired stoves to keep warm and cook. Blazing chillums and sadhus' dhunis are a common sight at the fair. And with this wide use of organic fire, the risk of accidents at the religious congregation is high.
The Uttar Pradesh government sets up a mela administration every year to manage the temporary district that comes up for this 55-day fair, which involves the use of flammable material such as plywood, bamboos and canvas to set up thousands of tents and other structures at the site. With several fire accidents reported at the fair in the past, the mela administration, this time around, has promised that arrangements are in place to tackle such situations. A fire that broke at Sector 11 of the mela ground in 2013 — the year of the Maha Kumbh Mela — had injured at least 19 people.
The administration has a fleet of 55 Motorbike Fire Fighting System (MBFFS), which can reach the corners of the massive tent city faster than a fire tending vehicle, said Pramod Kumar Sharmam, the chief fire officer (CFO) of the mela administration.
"The personnel riding these bikes have been trained to reach the sites of fires in no time. It will be very useful in the shoulder-rubbing lanes of the Kumbh Mela, which are tough for tankers to navigate through," he said, adding that this will be the first time that fire tenders on bikes will be used at the fair.
"These motorcycles are equipped with advanced compressed air foam solution technology, while the MBFFS is the latest firefighting technology that uses the power from the motorcycle engine to produce water mist. The bikes also have a high-pressure driven pump, a water tank and high-pressure jet gun with a hose reel," he added.
Sharma said that to avoid short circuits, the administration has used Miniature Control Board (MCB) switches in all the tents. "MCBs will avoid fires caused by short circuits. These MCBs have been installed in every tent, all the akharas of the saints and even in government offices," the CFO said.
Fire station in each sector
The tent city has been divided into nine zones and 20 sectors, and fire officers deployed at each of these sectors and zones will report to the CFO and the district magistrate of the Mela administration, Sharma said.
"We have tried to set up at least two fire stations in each sector, with each housing water tankers, MBFFS and an adequate number of firefighters," he added.
The mela administration has also planned to install more than 4,000 fire hydrants (a connection point for firefighters to tap into for water supply) across the tent city. Apart from this, LED signages are also being put up, Sharma said, adding that these variable boards will help guide people towards safe exit points in case of an accident and reduce the chances of a commotion at the mela ground.
Furthermore, the CFO said that state and national disaster management authorities are keeping a close watch on the preparations and will give their feedback after conducting an inspection drive on 28 December.
"So far, they (disaster management authorities) are satisfied with the quality of work we have done," he said, adding that the firefighters are also being given orientation training as the fair will see a large floating population and they will need soft skills to handle such situations.
Hi-tech hospital setup
A temporary hi-tech hospital with a capacity of 100 beds is being set up at the mela ground. According to Rajiv Rai, a senior official in the mela administration, the hospital will be completely operational in a couple of days.
"The hospital has ICUs. The outpatient department will have a capacity of 10,000 patients per day, and ambulances with life support system will be available. While the doctors have already started consultations, full-scale operations will begin after teams of the national disaster management authority and state disaster management authority conduct inspections," Rai said, adding that the temporary facility will be no less than a district hospital with specialists from almost every department present.
In addition to these facilities, health posts, which will be equipped with stretchers and emergency care staff, are being set up in all the 20 sectors, the official said.
Moreover, the CFO claimed that the material used to set up the tents in the temporary district resists fire to some extent and will give time to firefighters before going up in flames. He said random inspections will be conducted to keep an eye on risk-prone use of ply boards and other inflammable material in the tent city.
Also, at least four mock drills have been conducted at the tent city, so far, and more will be conducted to keep the personnel on their toes.
Sanjeev Kumar, a prominent Lucknow-based supplier of firefighting equipment in Uttar Pradesh, said that while the administration appeared well-prepared to handle any untoward situation, the risk from the panic that breaks out among the public is always a concern, as people turn hysterical even if they see a minor fire and cause a stampede.
When asked about non-flammable alternative materials that can be used to set up tents, Kumar said a chemical coating on the tents can prevent them from catching fire, but it is used only in the event of prominent personalities visiting the mela. This is because a 10 x 10 feet coating with such chemical can cost around Rs 5 lakh.
With inputs from Mohammad Gufran
The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2019 15:56:05 IST