Fri, 22 Aug 2003

Fire department, so important yet neglected

Bambang Nurbianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The increasing number of fires across the capital and the lack of fire hydrants has apparently not stayed the hand of the Jakarta administration in cutting the budget for the Jakarta Fire Department.

The administration has proposed slashing its 2003 fire prevention and fire fighting budget from Rp 201.511 billion (US$24 million) to Rp 184.33 billion.

The cut has been proposed in the budget revision, which is currently being discussed between the administration and City Council.

City Council Commission A for administrative and legal affairs criticized the administration's lack of commitment in improving and developing the fire department.

Commission A spokesman Mardjuan Bakri said the administration must seriously improve both facilities and human resources in the department.

"The administration's zero growth policy in accepting new employees and poor facilities could backfire upon the department's performance," he said, reading his commission's view on the budget revision at the Council's plenary session.

"It's very ironic that the administration has even proposed a budget cut for a department as vital as the fire department," he said.

Although City Fire Department chief Johnny Pangaribuan was unavailable to comment on the issue, he had earlier said that his department lacked the facilities and equipment needed to prevent and combat fires.

The latest data showed that for a city of 600,000 hectares with 53 of 267 subdistricts prone to fires, Jakarta has only 900 fire hydrants, far from the ideal of 20,000.

Johnny also said the fire department lacked adequate human resources, with few young recruits joining up, and that 95 percent of its 2,520 firefighters were over 45 years of age: 65 percent are over 55, 35 percent are over 50 and only 5 percent are below 45.

Firefighters have warned of a possible increase in fires across the capital, as 500 separate fires had already broken out in the first half of 2003, compared to last year's total of 800 fires.

Deputy Governor Fauzi Bowo told the press at City Hall on Thursday that the budget for the fire department had to be cut, due to its inability to implement those programs jointly selected by the administration and the Council.

The fire department apparently failed to purchase two Snorkle ladder trucks worth Rp 15.35 billion, and also returned Rp 1.82 billion originally allocated for employees' expenses.

"I only know that the main reason is because the fire department could not use their budget. However, I can't provide details. It's better to ask Pak Johnny Pangaribuan," he said.