Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Fire hydrants, a legacy of British times that helped provide water to firemen to fight a fire accident, are dying a slow death

Bangalore seems to be slowly losing its ‘water power’, mostly needed during a fire accident, because the fire hydrants, a source of water that the firemen can tap into, are disappearing from the city’s landscape.
Water has stopped flowing from 624 of these yellowcapped, red fire hydrants, a remnant of the British raj. Maintained by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), these hydrants have turned out to be mere metal structures dotting the city.
No one has given a serious thought to reviving hydrants despite international fire safety standards stating that no fire tender should take more than three minutes to reach a place engulfed in flames. The BWSSB answer is simple: “We are finding it difficult to supply drinking water to citizens. So we cannot allow water to flow into the fire hydrants.”
The hydrants are mostly located in Old Bangalore area, more so in the central parts, including Vidhana Soudha and the adjoining areas. However, BWSSB chief engineer (maintenance) T Venkataraju said as most of the public buildings have a good capacity to store water, there is no need to supply water to hydrants.
He said the BWSSB is committed to providing water to the fire department. The ‘parched’ hydrants are not a problem as the BWSSB has set up 67 water service stations from which water can be pumped round the clock. “We also have 50 water tankers that can be deployed during emergencies,” he said.
Last year, the BWSSB had supplied water through one of the fire hydrants in Bamboo Bazar when it “became difficult to control the fire”. “Wherever the hydrants are present, the BWSSB is bound to supply water. In case of an emergency, we supply water through them (hydrants),” said Venkataraju.
Bangalore is spreading far and wide in all directions. Yet, there is not a single hydrant in BTM Layout, Koramangala, Madiwala, Sarjapur Road, Whitefield and other extended areas. Another BWSSB official said, “We have no plans to install new hydrants in extended areas nor dismantle old ones.”
Some major institutions have installed hydrants themselves as a precautionary measure.
B G Chengappa, Director, Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services, said, “The BWSSB must provide 24-hour water through the fire hydrants. Hydrants are used to fill water tankers used by firemen. These are connected to the ‘water mains’ and controlled by the BWSSB and the fire services. The fire vehicles on duty refill water from the nearest available hydrants during a fire accident.”
The Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services had written to the BWSSB asking it to maintain fire hydrants in the city. In March 9, 2005, the BWSSB replied, “It is very tough to rectify defects and maintain fire hydrants in the city due to irregular water supply. But we are ready to provide water to the fire service from our filling points.”
A fire hydrant is known colloquially as a fire plug in the US or as a ‘johnny pump’ in New York City because the firemen of the late 1800s were called Johnnies. A fire hydrant is an active fire protection measure, and a source of water provided in most urban, suburban and rural areas with municipal water service to enable firefighters to tap into the municipal water supply to assist in extinguishing a fire.
The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Act, 1964 says it is mandatory to provide fire hydrants. The Act also says:

• The water supply engineer shall fix hydrants on water mains (other than thetrunk mains) at such places as may be most convenient for affording supply of water for extinguishing any fire that may break out and shall keep in good order and from time to time,renew every such hydrant

• To denote the situation of every hydrant placed under this section, letters, marks or figures shall be displayed prominently on some wall, building or other structure near such hydrant

• As soon as any such hydrant is completed, the water supply engineer shall deposit a key at each place where a public fire engine is kept and in such other places as he deems necessary

• The Board may, at the request and expense of the owner or occupier of any factory,workshop,trade premises or place of business situated in or near a street in which a pipe is laid (and not being a trunk main and being of sufficient dimensions to carry a hydrant),fix on the pipe and keep in good order and from time to time, renew one or more fire hydrants; it is to be used only for extinguishing fires as near as conveniently may be to that factory,workshop,trade premises or place of business

• The Board shall allow all persons to draw water for extinguishing fires from any pipe on which a hydrant is fixed without any payment.


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