Uttarakhand fire controlled, but NDRF isn't trained or equipped for it: OP Singh

[The Uttarakhand fires have destroyed nearly 1,800 hectares of forest land in 13 districts since February. At least six people have died so far. This is a first person account of NDRF chief OP Singh]

About 30 minutes back, our team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescued a family of Sahib Singh  whose house caught fire near Pauri. Though the NDRF is not trained in fire-fighting operation, this is a unique situation where we have been putting in our best efforts to check the devastation.

In fact, when I was asked to deploy the NDRF for assistance in fire-fighting, I was skeptical about the efficacy of my men. We do not have the protective gears that are required for firefighting. Similarly, the NDRF teams do not possess the equipment required to douse a fire of such scale.

OP Singh. Image courtesy: ndrfandcd.gov.in

OP Singh. Image courtesy: ndrfandcd.gov.in

I got a call from Governor’s office  and later from Uttarakhand chief secretary Shatrughan Singh to assist in the operation. Though I was aware of the NDRF’s inadequacy in this situation, the situation was so serious we needed to put in all our efforts to contain the fire.

Once we got instruction that the NDRF has to be deployed, we went the whole hog to execute the operation. Our teams reached there on Friday and consulted all stake-holders, including forest officials, volunteers, home guards, local administration and the police to launch a coordinated effort. On Saturday, the coordinated effort was launched in right earnest.

The fire is roughly spread over 1800 hectare area which includes Chamoli, Almora and Pauri. We have been using conventional method of “beaters and diggers” to contain the flame. For instance, flames are beaten down through conventional methods and trenches are dug to contain it. It has been pretty effective as the situation seems to be under control.

In the initial operation, we identified five fire sectors and deployed our teams with the help of local assistance. Our immediate objective is to stop spreading of fire to the reserve forest area which is contiguous to human habitation.  Our teams have been simultaneously at 13 different locations which keep changing with the spread of the fire. Each team roughly covers 8-10 km of forest area during its operation.

The forest fire in Uttarakhand

The forest fire in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy: NDRF

With the help of local authorities and fire-brigade personnel, our operation has proved to be effective. For the NDRF, it was a different kind of experience as we are known as disaster relief response force. More recently we rescued people trapped in a fire that engulfed a commercial establishment in Lucknow. Since this is a new situation, our teams of NDRF are trying to cope with it rather valiantly with local support.

(As told to Ajay Singh)

Updated Date: May 02, 2016 07:29 AM

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