The leadership vacuum is scorching the fire service

Cover story of Ahmedabad

The leadership vacuum is scorching the fire service

With a non-existent top cadre, the time is ripe to bring back the tradition of appointing an IPS officer as AMC DyMC to take charge of Ahmedabad Fire Brigade

With what can be described as the uniformed service in Gujarat in complete disarray, discontent with the leaderless and rudderless Ahmedabad Fire and Emergency Services (AF&ES) is palpable.

The fire brigade in Ahmedabad, which suffers from indiscipline and dismal morale, is severely understaffed and overworked and has had virtually no top management in recent years. This has taken a heavy toll on the fire brigade.

So much so that demands are being murmured for change in the administrative structure, with some hoping that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation would once again have an IPS officer holding the post of Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Fire Services, others seeking determined efforts from IAS officers and still those who I hope a technical officer can be the insider who can help revive the collapsing structure before it is too late.

On national level
IPS officers have always served in the fire brigade. In fact, the Director General (DG) of Fire, Civil Defense and Home Security in India is currently the 1989-batch Gujarat cadre officer Vivek Srivastava, who was appointed on January 1, 2024.

At state level
At the state level, 32 IPS officers are currently deputed to fire services across India, of which 16 serve as heads of fire services in 14 states and 2 Union Territories (UTs), as per the IPS Civil List 2024. Of these heads of services, 11 are of DGP rank, 4 are of ADGP rank, 2 are of IGP rank and 1 is a DIGP rank officer. Gujarat does not have an IPS officer in this post.

At Ahmedabad level
At the city level, the AMC has priority in appointing IPS officers as Deputy Municipal Commissioners (DyMC). Mirror has confirmed that at least six IPS officers have served as DyMCs, including Pramod Kumar, Upendra Singh, PP Pandey, Shivanand Jha, AR Bhatt and Siddharth Khatri. At least two of them – Pandey and Jha – would go on to become heads of the Gujarat police.

Jha even served as DyMC twice, once in 1997-99 and then again in 2003-04. However, after the last IPS officer DyMC, SM Khatri, was transferred in 2016, only IAS and GAS officers have been appointed to the post.
Due to the dire conditions within the force, where the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and Additional CFO posts have remained vacant since early 2022, and two of the four Deputy CFO posts have been vacant for over a decade, two officers remain about. do the work of six – many believe a uniformed officer should become DyMC.

IPS, IAS or Firefighter at the helm?
Several AMC officials told Mirror that IPS officers not only bring more discipline but also better recognize the needs of a uniformed force. Moreover, an IPS in the administration gives a greater voice to the AF&ES, who are otherwise relegated to the sidelines. Furthermore, experienced officers confessed that cooperation with the police was smoother during the stints of IPS officers.

However, some disagree and say that IPS officers would also be trampling firefighters and the entire exercise would be pointless unless there is a strong CFO. Another dissenting voice said the administrative skills of IAS officers make them better able to navigate the AMC bureaucracy.

Another opinion, from a mid-level officer, stated that it would be best to have a fire officer like DyMC, someone who would not only bring discipline and understand technical firefighting, but also align it with other uniformed services. An example of this, albeit from a neighboring state, is when Mumbai Fire Brigade CFO Prabhat Rahangdale was appointed DyMC at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in 2020.

A senior state official complained, “It is a travesty that there are no CFOs in four major cities including Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara and Surat. A power whose heads are only temporary cannot function properly if the top has responsibility but no authority. This causes a domino effect throughout the department. The bitter truth is that the fire service only becomes important when people lose their lives.”