In early 2008 after the Gasa Dzong fire the then Wangdue Dzongda, Kinzang Dorji is quoted in a media interview as saying, “the fire security system in Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is well-maintained and properly checked. We, however, would like to upgrade the system if we have the budget.”
While the Wangdue Dzong fire has come as a disastrous reminder of fire security in Dzongs what is cause for alarm is, fire security systems in most Dzongs are similar-to or worse than that of Wangdue Dzong.
The Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA) officials said the ministry’s plans to install security features, like smoke detectors in all the Dzongs under the 10th plan failed to take off due to budget constraints.
Currently only Tashichhodzong has the most advanced fire-fighting system with smoke detectors that are monitored by computers. Punakha Dzong and the newly constructed Chukha Dzong also have slightly better fire security systems than most Dzongs.
With one dzong in almost every Dzongkhags in the country and in the light of the Wangdue Dzong fire, despite having a fire hydrant, there are growing concerns about fire security among Dzongdas and the MoHCA.
With this in mind Dzongdas many of whom have been raising fire security in Dzongs in the past plan to bring it up again in the annual Dzongdas conference on 5th July, 2012.
In the past concerns expressed by Dzongdas to improve fire security with more advanced systems were shot-down due to budget constraints.
Paro Dzongda, Chencho Tshering said that Paro Dzong has a few small fire hydrants and water tanks but he said that it was time to revamp them and that Dzong maintenance is also required.
Dagana Dzongda, Tenzin Thinley said that the Dagana Dzong only has small fire extinguishers and in order to have computerized fire system the main constraint would be the budget. “We hope that this would come as an outcome of the meeting,” he said.
Mongar Dzongda Sherab Tenzin said the issue of fire security of Dzongs will be brought out in the conference.
The head of Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS), under the Home Ministry, Nagtsho Dorji said that all the Dzongs had fire fighting mechanism in place but not advanced ones like that of Tashichhodzong and Punakha Dzong.
She said that rest to the other Dzongs just had water tanks and fire hydrants installed, this fire security system in the Dzongs had been jointly built by the ministry and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP)’s fire fighting division with funding from the GoI.
“Yes, initiatives have been taken under the 10th FYP but this has been subjective because there was a need of budget, so had the budget come through such systems would already have been installed,” said Nagtsho Dorji.
Gasa Dzongda, Sonam Jigme said that the Dzong has one Elementary Support Personnel (Meysup) to make sure the lights are off after office hours. He, however, said that Dzongs are usually built places where access is difficult so it would be important to improve the access.
Renovation is currently underway at the Lhuentse Dzong. Since the Government of India (GoI) is supporting the renovation works, the Dzong authorities are hopeful that the project will cover the installation of fire alarm system and smoke detectors.
“We have requested the fire services division under the police to come and take an estimate for the same,” said the Lhuentse Dzongda, Tshering Kezang.
The newly constructed Chukha Dzong is fully equipped with computerized fire alarm system with smoke detectors, according to Chukha Dzongda, Tshewang Rinzin. “Fire Hydrants and hoses set are in place.” Though the Dzong may have smoke detectors it does not have a nearby fire engine to fight any potential blaze. The Dzong has requested for a fire engine.
“The Mongar Dzong’s fire security system is not advanced,” said the Dzongda Sherab Tenzin. He said the system is fairly good as replacement of the water pipeline to exclusively fight fire was just carried out.
“One could have the best of technologies to keep away fire hazards but if there is no proper vigilance, the vulnerability would be the same. More than anything, vigilance is important,” said the Dzongda.
The Trongsa Dzongda Dawala said that though computerized smoke detectors were recently installed in Trongsa Dzong he felt the necessity of a separate sector for Dzong maintenance. He had raised the requirement for it at the last Dzongda conference and the Dzongkhag Midterm Review.
“This is under consideration by the government,” he said.
Most Dzongdas said they have pushied for a Dzong maintenance team but there has been no progress on it.
The Home Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji also stressed and supported the need for a separate Dzong maintenance section. He said that he himself would be pressing for the need to have such a section.
Some Dzongdas said though the RBP trains monks and other civilians to fight fire these were very basic trainings. They said the Department of Disaster Management can train some people so that they have more expertise
However, fire security in all Dzongs eventually boils down to money which the government is short-of right now.
The Home minister, Minjur Dorji told The Bhutanese that in the absence of a disaster management act, there was no way to get enough budget for fire security system. “Once the National Assembly passes the Disaster Management Bill, all agencies need to have some disaster fund integrated into plans and programs of every Five Year Plans that would come after the 10th FYP,” he added.
Currently the Home Ministry is preparing the 11th FYP. Under the Dzong conservation aspect, there are some projects where fire fighting will be a component.
Earlier the government made efforts to ensure fire security in Dzongs. In 2007 Dzongkhag staff, monks, and RBP received training on fire drills and the use of firefighting equipments.
After the Gasa Dzong fire, in 2008, the ministry issued a circular to all the Dzongkhags and advised them on measures to strengthen Dzong fire security systems and to install new security features like smoke detectors in all the Dzongs in the 10FYP (hampered by lack of budget).
Nagtsho Dorji said that the fire experiences in the past were largely from carelessness of the staff. “However, in the past few years the ministry in collaboration with the Dratshang Lhentshog has managed to move-out kitchens from the Dzongs. The drill system also plays a role in vigilance and the Dzongkhag works on it,” she added.