Students at the National Fire Service College in Nagpur are guaranteed a job one year before they receive their degrees. Its 30 fire-engineering graduates are picked up by private and public sector giants such as Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and Oil and Natural Gas Corp.
Meanwhile, in Ahmedabad, the privately owned College of Fire Technology offers a less rigorous degree—a three-year Bachelor’s in fire science—but similar statistics. Its batch of 120 students have just been placed across India and abroad.
As Indian companies open factories and oil refineries, and cities sprout malls, multiplexes and high-rise apartments, people to fill jobs fighting and preventing fires are in demand. However, colleges offering degrees in this specialized field remain few and far between.
At present, only three Indian colleges offer fire engineering degrees, in Nagpur, Kochi and Indore, unlike the college in Ahmedabad, which offers a fire-science degree. Together, they offer less than 100 seats. Experts say the colleges need to be better equipped and staffed.
“Demand for our graduates is up not 100%, but 200%. We are not able to increase supply,” said Shamim (who uses just one name), director of the National Fire Service College in Nagpur.
The college, run by the home ministry, offers a seven-semester fire engineering degree programme and is planning to expand from 30 to 120 seats at a new campus with an investment of Rs103 crore.
However, fire experts point out that the Nagpur college expansion has been talked about for a long time, but is yet to happen.
They also say that fire engineering—a vital part of fire prevention and not just firefighting—needs a big boost to match industrial and urban growth.
Fire engineers work closely with architects, factory and plant supervisors to make sure that buildings are designed to prevent fires and that all regulations are followed.
“The Nagpur college is ill-equipped right now and needs funds. Its expansion has been talked of for the last 10 years,” said Jagmohan Jain, chief fire officer for the Bhilai steel plant of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL).
Jain himself is part of the first batch of fire engineers who graduated from the Nagpur college in 1982.
“Fire engineers are a scarce commodity as a number of them head for the Middle East after graduation,” said Varadendra Koti, vice-president of fire services for RIL, which goes in for on-campus recruitments. “But industry also hires candidates who are certificate and diploma holders.”
The sectors that have the most demand for fire engineers are oil refineries, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers.
One effect of the shortfall in fire professionals has been on salaries. Fresh engineering graduates start with a monthly salary of Rs20,000-25,000. Oil sector multinational firms pay Rs60,000-1 lakh a month to fresh graduates for postings in West Asia.
“When I first entered college, I used to wonder about my future,” said 23-year-old Praharsh Nandi, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in fire science from Ahmedabad two years ago. Nandi now has a master’s degree and turned down a job offer in Qatar.
He has decided to stay in the country and joined John Energy Ltd, an oil exploration services provider, at an annual salary of Rs2.5 lakh.
In the crunch for talent, female candidates are also seeing an opportunity. The Nagpur institute graduated two women in the 2006 batch. One of them went to work for SAIL, which currently employs 30 fire engineers.