Due to delays in procurement, firemen are yet to get the modern equipment they need for faster response to fires, fight blazes with efficiency, and reduce risks.
Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence (BFSCD) in 2014 took up a Tk 226 crore project to buy various modern equipment.
Those include two remote controlled robots that can fight fires in excessive heat, two articulated flatbed lorries for carrying necessary materials to the scene, 50 light tow trucks, 30 generators with light masts and an excavator with a demolition hammer for rescue operations, two turntable ladders that can go up to 10-storey high, and various fire and rescue tenders.
Officials said they got the two turntable ladders and some fire engines so far even though the project is supposed to end this July.
So far, the BFSCD could spend only 54 percent (Tk 123.78 crore) of the money. The project is the agency's biggest ever in terms of equipment purchase.
Lt Col Siddique Mohammad Zulfiker Rahman, director planning, development and training of BFSCD, said various factors, including floating fresh tenders, caused delays in procurement.
“We did not get bids in line with our first tender. Then, we changed the specifications and floated another tender and got only one bid, so we had to go for a fresh tender … ,” he said.
He was, however, hopeful of getting the equipment soon.
Officials concerned said they believe the procurement process would gather momentum now.
The capital witnessed several deadly fires in quick succession. Two disasters in February and March claimed nearly 100 lives.
MODERNISATION IN OFFING
The officials said with a loan from the World Bank, they were in the process of getting three turntable ladders that could go up to 26-storeys high.
Lt Col Zulfiker said, “We have also taken initiative to establish 11 modern fire service and civil defence stations.”
The stations would be in industrial areas such as Gazipur, Ashulia, Narayanganj, Dhaka, Chattogram, Cox's Bazaar, and at the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Pabna.
Officials said the fire department plans to take up a Tk 2,500 crore project as part of its second-phase of modernisation efforts.
It wants to buy 85 types of firefighting and rescue equipment, including 25 turntable ladders, 25 fire snorkels, 25 combo vehicles, and 50 water tenders.
TRAINING, RULES, HYDRANTS
Analysts said just strengthening the fire brigade would not do.
Lives and properties will still be in danger unless enforcement of the national building code is ensured, awareness is raised and trainings are imparted.
They said measures like installing fire hydrants in cities must be taken.
“Structures have been built filling up ponds and water bodies. Where will firefighters get water if there is no fire hydrant available?” said Mohammad Abu Sadek, former director of Housing and Building Research Institute (HBRI).
He said even if the capacity of the BFSCD was enhanced several times and millions were spent on equipment, there could be little to show for.
“You can reduce risk of fire incidents by ensuring national building code compliance, creating awareness, and training people. People do not know what to do [in case of a fire incident], how to use the fire extinguishers. There are no fire drills. There are no evacuation plans in buildings and there are no initiatives for these,” he said.
Prof Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, project director of Bangladesh Network Office for Urban Safety (BNUS) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said many city areas have problems, including lack of fire hydrants, fire safety measures in buildings, and fire stations being far away.
He said the Dhaka Water Supply & Sewerage Authority has to install fire hydrants.
“If we have the mentality that the fire service will douse fires, it will not do. Training people building by building, training the local community as well as ensuring fire-fighting equipment availability is required,” he said.
BFSCD Director General Brig Gen Md Sazzad Hussain said the number of equipment the agency currently has was not too small to fight fires.
“We have taken steps for modernisation,” he said.
He pointed out problems the firemen face on a regular basis -- traffic jams and narrow streets and lanes. “This impedes our work,” he said, adding, “We are procuring small tenders considering the size of streets as large vehicles cannot reach all spots.”
Fire stations are being established in every upazila, said the fire chief.
BFSCD has more than 400 stations across the country.