Bhaktapur city—which is popularly known as an open museum as it has a number of ancient temples, palaces and other traditional buildings–is at high risk of fire as the city has only one fire engine, that, too, in a dilapidated condition.
Though the Juddha Fire Brigade in Bhaktapur has five fire engines, four of them are dysfunctional. The only operational fire engine is a Daimler Benz donated by Siddhi Smriti Hospital. The hospital had received it from the German government 25 years ago to transport medicines.
“The Benz was a second-hand truck, which was later turned into a fire engine,” said Bijaya Prasad Dhaubhadel, head of the fire brigade. He said they are not able to repair the vehicle for years as its parts are not available in the country. “As it is in a dilapidated state, we are not sure how long it is going to work,” he said.
Among the dysfunctional vehicles, the Denis fire engine is out of use since 1998, Bedford water tanker since 2010, Dodge fire engine since 1990 and Magirus Deutz since 2000.
Besides the Daimler Benz, the fire brigade has one “fire bike” donated by the Golchha Company this year.
Fire fighters say they will not be able to provide emergency services as the fire engines are not repaired and the city faces water shortage. They said the same fire engine has been providing services in areas such as Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Dhulikhel, Dolakha and Panchthar.
“We are always ready to serve people but we are not sure whether the machine will come back to garage once it is out in the field,” said Ram Mahat, the fire brigade commander referring to the condition of the only available vehicle. Dhaubhadel said the brigade is understaffed. Currently, it has only 13 staffers. “Of them, only three are permanent employees while the remaining are working on contract basis,” he said.
The fire fighters, meanwhile, complained that they lack safety measures to carry out their job. “We are not given any protective gear and we do not have life insurance,” said Ram Krishna Pyakurel, a fireman.