To ensure the safety of fire fighting personnel and for efficient firefighting approach during forest fires, a draft Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for forest fires in Thimphu was presented on June 19 in Thimphu.  

Chief forestry officer at Forest Protection and Extension Division (FPED), Kinley Tshering said that Interagency Fire Fighting Coordination Group (IFFCG) would coordinate firefighting when forest fires occur in Thimphu. “The SOP will centralise and make responsibilities clear.”  

The IFFCG include Royal Bhutan Army, Royal Bhutan Police, Department of Forestry and Park Services (DoFPS), Department of Disaster Management (DDM), Thimphu dzongkhag, and desuups.  

DoFPS as the lead agency, Kinley Tshering said, will conduct basic training of trainers for all focal agencies that will in turn train their respective Rapid Response Team (RRT) and firefighters. “As RRT are the ones who’ll reach the scene first, they have to be equipped with necessary safety equipment. We randomly go to help douse fire without any equipment preparation.”  

Each RRT will consist of about 25 members. 

Other objectives to develop a SOP include timely and effective fire fighting action, and to achieve optimal resource distribution during fire fighting.  

Equipment such as fire mask and gloves, safety goggles and helmet, shovel, flappers, rake, water bag pump, water bottle, whistle, small bag, portable water pump, communication handsets, drones, and safety ropes among others are needed. 

Kinley Tshering said that whenever there are fire incidents, reports of the fire-affected areas being inaccessible are found to be common. “SOP has incorporated the need of drones so that we can assess the situation through it.” 

Fire lines in places such as Samtenling and Semtokha had been constructed and the IFFCG is working on constructing one near Samarzingkha, he said.  

“In the recent past, although DDM had helped provide handsets for communication, most don’t use IFFCG handsets.” 

According to the draft SOP, IFFCG should make preparations for the oncoming fire season including planning, training, awareness, identification of fires prone zones, and the conduct of prescribed burns. 

Agency members shall facilitate procurement of Physical Protection Equipment  (PPE) and fire fighting gears for their own organisation. 

Kinley Tshering said that when forest fire incidents are reported, the IFFCG would deploy the RRT. “RRT should be ready during dry season from every focal agency. If the fire lasts longer than half an hour, the RRT will report to IFFCG.”  

However, if it lasts longer than a day, he said that the backup team will be deployed and logistics will have to be arranged.

Whenever a firefighter comes to the scene they have to report to the IFFCG, who will communicate with incident manager on where to deploy the firefighters, he said. “Sometimes what happens is we have large members fighting fire in one part of the area and then there is not enough firefighters in other parts.” 

Incident manager will either be the chief forestry officer of Thimphu division or a senior official who has the idea of geographical setting of the area.  

DoFPS will be responsible for overall coordination of logistics distribution. Thimphu dzongkhag and DDM will look into the overall budget of the logistics. 

Kinely Tshering said that the SOP worked well in Thimphu during the last two seasons. “We will focus on the forest fire prone areas now.” 

Rinchen Zangmo