Easy availability of spare parts is another challenge for the fire services division 

Lack of experienced and expert mechanics to repair and maintain the pump section of fire engines is one of the main challenges for the Fire Services Division (FSD).

Fire engines have two components – the main engine of the vehicle, and the pump section for sucking and spraying water at high pressure.

The FSD has a fleet of 52 fire engines distributed across the country – 26 Indian made and 26 Japanese. Thimphu has nine fire engines stationed at the main station at Changzamtog and three outposts at Dechencholing, Motithang and Tashichhoedzong. Currently, eight of the 52 fire engines are off-road needing repair. Fire engines stationed in Mongar, Trashiyangste, Trongsa, Punakha, Trashichhodzong each and three at the main station in Thimphu are off road today.

The division has not received any new fire engines since 2011 when it purchased 19 vehicles through Government of India funding, according to the division’s Superintendent of Police (SP), Lt Col LB Pradhan. While several are 1980’s model, the oldest fire engine is of 1983 model, which requires frequent repair and maintenance.  The division spent Nu 4.9 million last year on repair and maintenance of fire vehicles.

FSD officials said that although issues with the engine can be resolved, Bhutanese automobile workshops do not have mechanics with technical expertise for repair and maintenance of fire engine pumps.

The division does repair and maintenance during summer when there are less chances of fire incidents.

Lt Col LB Pradhan, said that although automobile workshops are willing to do minor repairs such as welding, changing tyres and filling, they lack mechanics with expertise in repair and maintenance of fire pumps since it is not a profitable business compared to other vehicles. “Just for a handful of vehicles, automobile workshops do not invest and train mechanics.”

The division also has difficulties obtaining spare parts especially pump section parts as suppliers and workshops are reluctant to keep spare parts for a limited number of vehicles.  “Fire engines are also not provided space in automobile workshops as they occupy more space than other cars which is why we have to book in advance,” the SP said.

He said that the Japanese fire engines are efficient so long as they are functional. “There are fewer problems with the engine but when the pump breaks down, it is difficult to obtain their parts as they are not named or numbered,” he said  “Even if there are willing automobile workshops, most pump parts do not have specifications making it difficult to place orders.”

When permissible within the procurement rules, the fire division in the past had sent samples to India, Bangladesh and Thailand which proved to be time consuming and expensive due to freight charges. “The vehicles during the whole process remain off-road and there are also chances of losing the samples,” he said.

He said that procurement formalities to obtain parts costing more than Nu 200,000, is time consuming. “In an open bidding method, by the time the required parts arrive after putting forth quotation and gathering bidders, its about four months. We do get the parts but it takes time.”

Currently, the two mechanics with the division are repairing and maintaining the fire engines through trial and error. The third mechanic is undergoing a one year training in India. “We are planning to send more. We have also proposed for a workshop in the headquarters after which we do not have to depend on outside automobile workshops,” Lt Col LB Pradhan said.

Karma Cheki