Audit: Fire safety measures are still lacking and inadequate in dzongs despite losing historical monuments of paramount significance such as Wangdue Dzong and Paro Taktsang to fire the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) has found following its performance audit of disaster management in Bhutan.

As per the report, fire safety covers measures planned during the construction of a building or implemented in structures that are already standing and those taught to occupants of the building. During the review of the fire safety measures in dzongs and public buildings and offices, the RAA found that fire safety measures taken were either  insignificant or absent.

“On review of the fire safety measures in dzongs and public buildings such as hospitals, government houses and offices, it was observed that implementation of fire safety measures are either absent or minimal,” the report states.

RAA also inspected smoke detection, alarm systems and fire hydrants installed to safeguard the dzongs by the home and cultural affairs ministry.

During the inspection, the RAA found that Royal Bhutan Police officials operating the smoke detection and alarm systems in dzongs were inadequately trained to be able to understand the proper functions of the devices. As a result even for minor faults in the device, experts had to be hired from India or at times the whole device had to be transported to India for repairs.

For instance, the compact disk of the entire smoke detection and fire alarm system of Trongsa Dzong was sent to Kolkata for repair, which during the auditing period, remained undelivered even after a lapse of six months. “As a result the fire detection system in Trongsa Dzong was non-existent,” the audit report states.

While smoke detection, fire alarms and fire hydrants were installed in Chukha Dzong, the audit objected to the non-removal of plastic wrappers around the smoke detectors stating that such negligence defeated the very purpose of installing such expensive devices.

Electric wirings and fittings in most of the dzongs were also found old and poorly maintained. “Moreover, the rising number of users have far crossed the capacity of the wiring, thus, posing risk of short circuit,” the RAA report states.

Fire and emergency services were understaffed and inadequately equipped to provide immediate and prompt response in case of fire incidents. In the event of a fire no firefighter gear was prepared for a prompt response.

After the fire at Wangdue Dzong, dzongkhags had made it mandatory for the last person leaving the office to ensure that electrical appliances and lights were put off. The dzongkhags were to record in the register this practice. “However, the good practice was found followed diligently only for few months, now the practice was a forgotten formality,” the reported states.

Although section 7.8 of the fire safety code in Bhutan Building Rules requires installation of fire safety measures in buildings both public as well as commercial buildings are without any fire safety measures. “This not only poses fire hazard risks to the occupants of the building but also risks lives and properties surrounding the building,” the report states.

Meanwhile, in absence of fire safety measures in dzongs, monuments, schools and hospitals, the RAA has recommended that the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) and relevant authorities should enforce the fire safety regulations since fire is one of the recurrent hazards inflicting the country.

The report also recommends that the DDM explore possibilities of arranging insurance for these major public infrastructures to avoid the government bearing the entire cost of reconstruction during the naturals disasters such as fire.

Tempa Wangdi