Improving fire safety

The Royal Audit Authority’s fire safety report paints a very unflattering picture of our security and safety initiatives, particularly in the dzongs and public offices. The report is, in its candid way and, quite rightly, damning. And it does not surprise us.

In fact, the report should perk those responsible up to see that effective measures are taken to prevent fire accidents. Placing enough hydrants and extinguishers in the corners of the buildings do not by themselves guarantee fire safety. We can safely assume that more than half of them are not even working because once they are placed quaintly somewhere, we never do routine check up to see whether they are functional at all.

The report says that fire safety measures are inadequate or lacking in most of the important historical monuments in the country. Even after Taktshang fire of April 19, 1998, Gasa Dzong fire of January 22, 2008 and Wangdue Dzong fire of June 24, 2012, we seem to be pretty lax about fire safety.

It has also been found that Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) personnel operating smoke detecting devices and alarm systems in the dzongs are inadequately trained to understand even the basic functions of the devices. For indeed, when the devices stop to function due to certain mechanical problems, experts have to be hired from India to check on things and to fix them. Recently, compact disk of the entire smoke detection and fire alarm system of Trongsa Dzong had to be sent to Kolkata for repair, which took more than six months to be back. Anything could have happened the while; only it didn’t, fortunately.

And to make the matter worse, electric fittings in most of the dzongs are old and in bad state of repair. The report warns: “The rising number of users have far crossed the capacity of the wiring, thus, posing risk of short circuit.”

All these findings are, to say the least, deeply disturbing.

Tackling fire accidents will require earnest and cross-sectorial approach. Each and every citizen should be involved. It should not only be that civil servants, corporate and private employees must attend quick and light fire drills every now and then, but they should all be necessarily well-trained and certified fire fighters.

In the meanwhile, fire and emergency services should be well staffed and equipped adequately to provide immediate and prompt response in case of fire accidents.

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