Fire safety still lacking in Dzongs

On 24 June 2012 a national tragedy gripped the nation as Wangdue Dzong burnt down, but a 2010-2015 performance audit on disaster management still found inadequate safety measures in Dzongs and public buildings even after the fire.

A Royal Audit Authority (RAA) review of the fire safety measures in Dzongs and public buildings like hospitals, government offices and housing found that implementation of fire safety measures are either absent or very minimal.

In order to safeguard Dzongs from fire hazard, smoke detection, fire hydrants and alarm systems were installed in seven Dzongs of which the RAA visited and inspected five of them.

The smoke detection and alarm systems were installed by the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs and manned by the Fire Service Division of Royal Bhutan Police.

Generally, the RBP officials operating the systems in Dzongs were not found to be adequately trained to understand all the functions of the system. To even correct a minor flaw experts needed to be brought in from India or the whole system needed to be sent to India.

As an example the compact disk of the whole smoke detection and fire alarm system of Trongsa Dzong was sent to Kolkata for repair and it was not found to be brought back even after a lapse of six months. This meant that the fire detection system in Trongsa Dzong was non-existent.

Smoke detection and fire alarm system and fire hydrant were found installed in Chukha Dzong but during the field inspection RAA noticed the plastic packs or covers were not removed from many installed smoke detectors defeating the very purpose of installing such an expensive fire alarm system.

In most of the Dzongs the RAA found that the electric wirings and fittings are all old and worn out and the increasing number of users have far crossed the capacity of the wiring posing threat of short circuits and fires.

Fire and emergency services in Dzongs were not adequately staffed and equipped to provide immediate and quick response in case of any disaster. No firefighting gears were kept readily available.

As a part of the action plan after the Wangdue Dzong fire the Dzongkhag administration had made it compulsory for the last person leaving his or her office to put off all the electrical appliances and record the same in the register maintained by the management. However, the good practice was found followed diligently only for a few months and now the practice was a forgotten formality.

Although section 7.8 on fire safety in the Bhutan Building Rules 2002 requires installation of fire safety measures in buildings, but huge and commercial buildings stand without any fire safety measures being installed.

This posed a fire risk to both the occupants of the buildings and also the properties and lives surrounding the buildings.

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