Achievements and success stories of the Department

We work with the motto “We Serve to Save”. Every life or bit of property that we manage to save is an achievement for us. It gives us a sense of fulfilment.

Yet, certain incidents of fire-fighting and rescue-operations stand out by the degree of their magnitude. This page contains details of some such incidents.

U.K. honours for fire Official who tops U.K.exam: 21 july,2005

It was certainly a proud moment for the country and the State. Our Assistant Divisional Fire Officer received intimation from a U.K.-based institution that he had topped the non-U.K. candidates in an examination conducted by it.

Irrespective of who receives it, it certainly is an honour for the State. The award brought international recognition to Indians.

S. Veeramani, ADFO, Chennai(North), a postgraduate in mathematics and who has served the department for 26 years, is the top non-U.K. candidate in the Membership Examinations 2005 conducted by the Institution of Fire Engineers at Gloucestershire. The award, comprising a cheque and a plaque, have given at the annual general meeting of the institution scheduled for July 21.

He wrote four examinations, on fire engineering science, human resource management, fire safety and aero fire studies, in March this year. The Godiva Award is given to the best overall candidates in two categories — the U.K. and non-U.K. candidates.

“The Hindu ” honoured our DFO as “woman of the week” july 21,2005:
Knight in shining armour: An artlcle published in The Hindu on 21-07-2005

Ask her for an appointment and you have to factor in the possibility that she could be bringing a cat down from a roof, organising rescue at a collapsed building or shouting orders to her crew to position the hose at the fire. A typical day at office is far from typical for Meenakshi Vijayakumar, the first woman divisional fire officer in Tamil Nadu. Any calamity in North Chennai, she is one of the first few people to know.

Male bastion, ma’am. That’s just by the way. It’s more of, “I needed to reach out to people, like Oprah Winfrey or desi Kiran Bedi.” Reach out she did, before you could say “Conflagration, Assistance! (Fire! Help!)” on 21 major calls, the two years she has been in command. “Hollywoodian” is how she describes her work that takes her to towering and ground level infernos. Saving lives gives her a high.

The how and the why ma’am. “Stand on your own” topped her stern, ex-director, Children’s Hospital mom’s list of instructions, followed by “Don’t depend on anyone”. She did M.A. (Literature) at Ethiraj, completed a course in Industrial Management, got married, moved to Delhi, taught in a college for a while, led a “normal” life. But “normal” gave way to monotony and she found herself muttering, “This is not you, Meenakshi.” It was time for rule three — “Be different, do something for society.” She added a fourth: “Go out and take life head-on.”

I have to work, she announced to her airlines officer hubby. Wisely he nodded, knowing she would have gone anyway. Back in Chennai, she took the TNPSC exam, joined the list of the 200 who survived the prelim, main and interview and waited four years for the call. She had picked the fire services… ” Theirs is the coolest uniform! And Kiran Bedi’s commandment went: “When you work in a uniformed service, you get power, you work from your guts.”

Oh yeah, the training at Tambaram was tough. Especially on the male candidates. The battalion gaped as this married-woman-with-a-kid climbed the fireman’s ladder. She was unfazed. “I went prepared.” But not enough, she thought, when she was given authority over the heaviest division in Tamil Nadu — 14 stations, 2 thermal power plants, Manali oil refinery, the industrial belt… a pyrotechnic-friendly section, if ever there was one. “Initially, I was under tremendous pressure,” she admits. “I leaped into it and the fire chief, Mr Dogra, gave me freedom, trusted me.”

Pat for slum dwellers

That when the fire alarm rings, ma’am? Blood rushing, bell ringing, this knight in shining armour leads her all-male crew to the spot. Forming a cordon, she flags off Operation Fire Douse. Slum dwellers are the best behaved in a flare-up, she says, and in areas where slum fire is a seasonal ritual she can count on volunteers. In this fire-happening city there is no danger of boredom. At the fourth-floor garment godown fire in Athipattu, she and her crew watched a floor come crashing after them. In the middle of the night, she stood wondering how to breach the blaze in Spencer’s Plaza. She watched in horror a woman running into the flames to save her TV set at Aspiran Garden. She dashed to Sreenivasapuram before the tsunami struck a second time and put in 18 hours of rescue and clearing of bodies.

That episode had special effects. She met the CM, was praised for her work. “It was unforgettable.” So was the Santhome building collapse where her crew was able to save a man. “I kept talking to him while we pulled him out of the rubble after five hours of digging.”

Danger, ma’am? “No big deal. Fighting fire is something we do every day, take it literally or otherwise. It’s an extension of what we do at home. I only fight fires, you know, others manage horrible in-laws and husband!” When hubby’s on out-of-town postings, neighbours and servants help. Fires happen almost always between midnight and early morning, and her young son has been alone in the house more times than she cares to remember. “I tell him what he has to do, (and what she has to do) and leave it to him to decide. Sometimes he misses me, but that’s life. The worm has to break open the cocoon to become a butterfly.” We’ll hope her son doesn’t read this.

Inspiring women

She has great promos to get women to join. “When people come out we go in,” is one. “When we sleep, people are all right,” is another. “Women bring that extra touch,” she insists. “You take people into your fold, your motherly instinct comes to the fore.” More advocacy and Tamil Nadu might have the first all-woman fire service. We’ll say “Amen” to that.

On men: More than your husband, you need someone who takes care of the house. Handling them is easy, just tell them, “No-nonsense!”

On work: There is a difference when women do it. It’s fantastic!

On play: Always with family, we swim together.

Few fire services in the world would have had to handle a situation like the one created by the Tsunami that hit the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. Looking back at the event, while it leaves the mind disturbed with sights of terrible devastation and of vast areas strewn with dead bodies, it also gives some satisfaction that we were able to save more than 1500 persons. The Tsunami led to instantaneous death and only those who could be shifted immediately to the hospitals could be saved. After the first few minutes, our personnel had to perform the difficult task of retrieving dead bodies. This clean-up operation ensured that epidemics did not spread.

The Tsunami of 26 December, 2004:

Few fire services in the world would have had to handle a situation like the one created by the Tsunami that hit the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. Looking back at the event, while it leaves the mind disturbed with sights of terrible devastation and of vast areas strewn with dead bodies, it also gives some satisfaction that we were able to save more than 1500 persons. The Tsunami led to instantaneous death and only those who could be shifted immediately to the hospitals could be saved. After the first few minutes, our personnel had to perform the difficult task of retrieving dead bodies. This clean-up operation ensured that epidemics did not spread.

Thanks to the efforts taken by TNFRS as well as the growing safety-awareness among the public, Deepawali, which was once the nightmare of the Department, is now becoming safer with every passing year. The following graph shows the dramatic decline in the number of fire incidents on the Deepawali day

(January, 2001)

A devastating earthquake hit Ahmedabad, Bhuj and several parts of Gujarat on 26.01.2001 FN. Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services was requested to come for the aid and rescue and relief operations there. A team under the leadership of the Director of Fire Service and comprising of 5 members reached Ahmedabad on 27.02.2001 with Life Detection Equipment. This is a very sophisticated equipment which can detect life under debris. The team searched the debris for two days on 27.02.2001 and 28.02.2001 and identified life in 4 points in 9 sites. It is understood that one woman and one child were rescued alive from one of the points. The first team returned on 29.02.2001.

A second team consisting of one Assistant Divisional Fire Officer and 21 others undertook rescue and relief operations from 30.01.2001 to 05.02.2001 and a third team under another Assistant Divisional Fire Officer and also comprising of 21 other men took up such activities from 01.02.2001 to 07.02.2001.


On receipt of a rescue call, Water Tender No Tamil Nadu 37G 0243 along with a rescue team rushed to the spot and noticed blockages to the shutres bridges built across the river Bamini and resulting in floodwater entering Thambikottai Keezhkadu and Sembadavankadu villages. Action was being taken to evacuate the people and livestock and property in these villages, so that the lives could be saved and the danger prevented. Immediately, on receipt of instructions of the officer incharge of the shutres bridge, Leading Fireman 4750 U.Nagamani and Fireman 5118 K.Gandhimani, with the help of a rope, dived into the water and cleared the blockages caused on account of Neiveli Kattamani Plants. Later, the floodwaters in these villages started receding. Great loss of life and property to the people of these two villages were saved on account of heroic deeds of the two Fire Service Personnel, who ignored imminent danger to their own lives. People belonging to these two villages appreciated the efforts of the Fire Service Personnel at the spot. The Revenue Officials, PWD officials and Pattukottai M.L.A. Thiru P.Balasubramanian who aslo visited the flood-affected place, were all praise for the excellent work of the Fire Service Personnel. Later, after collecting the accident report, the Water Tender and party returned to the Fire Station. The Fire Service Personnel belonging to Muthupettai also assisted in the rescue operations. This service is worthy of reward.

Building Collapse at Peravallur, Chennai on 11-09-1998
Fire in General Post Office, Chennai – 2000

India’s First Woman Fire Officer

On August 1 when she joined the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services — TNFRS — as a divisional fire officer, 38-year-old Meenakshi Vijayakumar became the first woman in India to do so. . The TNFRS has 6,288 field staff, 31 of whom are divisional fire officers.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa can take credit for setting up the first all-women police station, an all-women commando team, an all-women police battalion and Mahila courts in the state

After completing her post graduation in English, her B Ed and a diploma in industrial relations and personnel management, Meenakshi began working as a college lecturer. She decided to take the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission’s Group 1 examination in 1997-1998 just before she crossed the age limit of 35 years; it was her last chance to do so and it was the first such competitive exam she was writing.

She explains why she decided to take the exams so late in her life, “I got married and moved to Delhi; then I became a mother and somehow never thought of taking the exams. Family circumstances resulted in our returning to Chennai; I saw the TNPSC ad and decided to give the exam.”

Four-and-a-half years after she wrote the exam, the first vacancy opened and Jayalalithaa made her India’s first fire officer.

Meenakshi only came to know she had been selected when the Jaya television channel crew knocked at her door on the night of July 22! “I had no words to express my feelings. I was elated, excited. I can use any number of adjectives,” she grins.

Ever since the news broke, life has changed for Meenakshi. Everyone — from family, friends, well-wishers, neighbours and the media — have been dropping in to congratulate her. “I never expected this kind of a response,” she says happily. “Life has become so hectic.”

Her husband, a senior human resources management manager with Indian Airlines, has recently been posted to Hyderabad. As a result of her new job, Meenakshi and her 11-year-old son Kshitij will live in Chennai and her husband in Hyderabad.

“It has been my ambition to work in the government. I also have a fascination for uniforms! Even when I was a child, I wanted to be someone like Kiran Bedi — she is my hero. I could not believe it when this job happened out of the blue; I was finally going to go to office in uniform. It’s like Kiran Bedi wrote in her book, It is always possible. ‘If you work towards a dream, you will realise it.’ “

It was because of her admiration for Bedi that she marked the police service as her first choice and the fire service as her second. “I had no idea at the time that there were no women fire officers in India. I found their motto, ‘We Serve to Save,’ very inspiring.”

Meenakshi does not believe in categorising jobs into those that can be done by men and those that can be done by women. “It’s all in the attitude, in the mind. Women can face any challenge. We have women like Kalpana Chawla, Kiran Bedi and our own CM working in fields dominated by men. I feel women are already tough. Otherwise, how can they take care of a house and family? I think they are saving lives at home! According to me, women are mentally tougher.”

She is preparing for the most exciting phase in her life by meditating, working out in the gym and going for long walks.

Her role as a pioneer makes her feel more responsible, she says. ‘With the job comes the responsibility. Like Kiran Bedi has set an example for all of us to follow, I should set an example for those coming after me in this field. I must thank God and Madam Chief Minister for giving me such a challenge.”

(13TH FEBRUARY 1981)

On 13.02.1981in the evening fire broke out at Spencer Building, situated at D.No 769, Anna Salai, Chennai 600 002. On receipt of the fire call at 19.55 hrs the personnel of Egmore Fire Station immediately rushed to the spot. On arrival the personnel could see devastating fire which was spreading rapidly due to wind. Immediately on studying the situation, the personnel took steps to prevent fire from spreading. In the meantime, on receipt of information about the fire accident through Fire Control Room the fire service vehicles from Triplicane, Teynampet and Fire Service vehicles from all over the City Fire Stations along with personnel came to the spot and engaged in extinguishing the fire. Due to the density of fire Bronto Skylift warranted to putting out the fire. Nine of the Fire Service personnel, who sustained injuries during the fire fighting, were admitted to Government Hospital for treatment. It took six hours to extinguish the fire totally.

Property lost in this fire was about Rs. 60 lakhs and property saved was Rs. 1.60 Crores

(30th May, 1985)

On 30.5.85 early morning Moore Market Commercial Complex went into flames. On receipt of the information at 00.32 hours of the outbreak of fire in the complex, personnel of the Vepery Fire Station along with vehicle reached the spot immediately. In addition to Vepery Fire Station Vehicle, Seven more Vehicles with personnel were sent to the spot. On arrival the personnel could see the flames which was spreading rapidly. The Fire Service Personnel took immediate steps to prevent the spread of fire. The Simon Snorkel was used extensively in the operation. More than 100 Fire Fighting Personnel were vigorously involved in extinguishing the fire. However, about 300 shops were gutted in this fire accident. Property worth Rs.1 Crore approximately was lost with an estimated amount of Rs.10 Crores was saved due to the effective fire fighting operation.

(5th MARCH, 1999)

Air France Aircraft AF-6745 (Boeing 747) cargo carrier flying from Paris to Jeddah – Bangalore – Chennai enroute to Karachi and back to Paris, caught fire after landing at Chennai Airport at about 23.30 hours on 05.03.1999. Immediately Airport Fire Service swung action and began fire fighting operations. Air Field Fire Rescue Vehicle, 5 Crash Fire Tender and 1 Water Tender and Ambulance was pressed into service.

Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services control room at Chennai received the information about fire at 23.35 hours. Immediately 2 numbers of Fire Units from Guindy and Tambaram were rushed to the scene of fire. Subsequently 4 more fire units. Including Two Foam Tenders and Two Water Tenders were rushed to the spot. Three Water Lorries from Metrowater followed the Fire Units. Subsequently eight more water lorries also reached the scene. The Airport Fire Station and Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services personnel conducted intense Fire Fighting. Director of Fire Service along with Deputy Director and two Divisional Fire Officers and about 50 firemen and Assistant Director (Fire), Airport Fire Service and 40 others from Airport Fire Service battled for over three hours and finally extinguished the fire at 02.30 hours on 06.03.1999.

There was no loss of human life in the accident. The Aircraft that went into flames was carrying cargo of clothes and cut flowers. The flight data recorder was recovered during the fire fighting operation.

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