Playing with fire: Despite being a megacity, Karachi lacks a responsive firefighting system that can tackle blazes efficiently

Playing with fire: Despite being a megacity, Karachi lacks a responsive firefighting system that can tackle blazes efficiently

Playing with fire: Despite being a megacity, Karachi lacks a responsive firefighting system that can tackle blazes efficiently

Despite the six telephone lines at the fire brigade’s central control room in Karachi ringing simultaneously, the operator avoids answering them citing the general public’s “non-serious” attitude with regard to reporting fire incidents.

“We have become sick and tired of prank calls from citizens as they fail to realize the importance of the emergency telephone lines”, he says, trying to justify himself.  The central control room receives some 500 prank calls on a daily basis, he says and called for having a system to instantly punish the pranksters.

However, he also agreed that his primary responsibility lies in timely response to emergency calls.  The fire brigade falls under the jurisdiction of the city administration and is duty-bound to respond to SOS calls relating to fire incidents in the metropolis.

However, it is also an unfortunate fact that the city fire department has been a victim of sheer neglect and bureaucratic apathy, suffering from inadequate resources, inept emergency response system, and mushroom growth of the provincial capital that has compounded the miseries of Karachi’s population.

“When there is an emergency, the blame is laid on the fire department for procedural hiccups”, said Abdul Ahad, in-charge of the fire brigade headquarters. “It is high time stakeholders realize their responsibilities and play their due role”.


Resource constraints

Chief Fire Officer Mubeen Ahmed while talking to Bol News agreed that the fire brigade has been in the line of fire with resource constraints for a long time now. There is a shortage of funds while the city has become a jungle of unplanned high-rise buildings with no plan of fire exit system in place, he informed.

“Believe me, none of the contractors of high-rise buildings have obtained NOC from the fire brigade,” he claimed. “However, now the government has established a committee to [oversee] the situation, and now hopefully, new high-rise buildings, marts, and shopping plazas will get the NOC from the fire brigade as per the requirement”, he observed.

Deplorable condition

The fire brigade is supposed to deal with blazes in high-rise buildings with five snorkels, ill-equipped vehicles, and other meagre resources.

Moreover, documents reveal that since June 2009 the unpaid amount of fire risk allowance is Rs731,394,290, while 29 fire brigade stations have been established. However, some are dysfunctional due to minor issues such as water shortage, unavailability of fire vehicle drivers, etc.


A source in the fire brigade revealed that two computerized snorkels were imported from Finland during the tenure of former city nazim Mustafa Kamal, but they have been out of order since the fire incident in 2007 when a blaze broke out at the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC). The snorkels had been imported without spare parts and technical experts aren’t available to fix the problem, he further added. He said that millions of rupees are needed to repair the imported snorkels.

Documents further show that since January 2021, there have been 2,013 incidents of fire in the different areas of Karachi, and most of them were classified as grade-3 fires.

Among the old fire tenders, 39 out of 44 are dysfunctional, while out of the 35 fire tenders newly provided by the federal government, one remains off road in the largest city of the country, as per the available statistics. The documents show that out of the 29 registered fire stations in the city, 16 do not fulfil the criterion of a standard fire station. Some fire stations are merely a one-room set-up with a parking space for the fire tender, while others are operated from makeshift arrangements. The fire department currently employs 1,353 personnel.

Remedial actions

Sub-fire officer Taufeeq Ahmed, while talking to Bol News, said according to international standards, there should be at least one fire station for 0.1m population. This would mean that Karachi needs at least 300 fully equipped fire stations, he observed.

Taufeeq Ahmed received training from the US and using his technical know-how has urged the general public to disconnect all unnecessary electrical gadgets before going to sleep. And in case a fire erupts in a room, the burning room’s door should be closed immediately in an effort to stop the fire from engulfing the entire structure.




  • 39 out of 44 old fire tenders are dysfunctional


  • The fire department currently employs 1,353 personnel


  • The fire brigade’s central control room receives 500 prank calls daily
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