Kathmandu Fire Brigade has big plans that go beyond fighting fire and rescuing victims. It aims to rescue road traffic accident victims and victims of natural calamities like floods. And it has advanced technology tools to perform all these tasks.
Then what is stopping the brigade from performing these tasks? Lack of well-trained human resources to operate the hi-tech tools.
According to KFB chief, Kishwor Kumar Bhattrai, his office has four fire trucks, one rescue jeep, one rescue truck and two Aerial ladders.
It also has rescue tunnel, paraguard stretcher, safety net, escape ladder, rope ladder and medical toolkits for rescuing fire victims. KFB also has hydraulic automatic cutter, hydraulic ramp lift, wire rope, spanner and wrench sets, among others, to rescue traffic accident victims. The office has life jackets, mattresses, through bags, blankets, hand mics, stretchers, and emergency medical tool kits for flood and landslide victims.
Additionally, KFB can come to the rescue even if fire erupts in houses located at commanding heights and away from main roads or at jungles. If anybody falls in a well, it has tools to rescue the person: It has equipment which contain artificial pond, hose connecting head, breathing apparatus, special ropes, ladders, hooks, torches and backbone stretchers.
“These equipment are newest for our country. No other government agency has such tools for rescuing the victims,” Bhattarai claims. According to Bhattarai, the government of Italy had donated these equipment about three years ago. “We had been using common equipment and had stored the advanced ones. Now, we have installed modern equipment in recently launched fire bikes,” Bhattrai says.
According to KFB officials, most of the employees do not know how to use new equipment, while some of the old employees lack basic firefighting skills.
“Almost all of KFB employees are under SLC. The problem appears with them during training as terminologies of firefighting are in English and so are the names of the equipment used,” Bhattarai says.
“Firefighters to be recruited now should have completed plus-two, preferably with a science background.” At present, the office has 38 employees. Of them, about two dozen are actively involved in firefighting, which are clearly not enough. What’s more worrisome is that eight persons are going to retire within the next three years.
About three years ago, the KMC had announced vacancies for firefighters, but politicking played spoilsport, says officials, without elaborating. The office was handed over to Kathmandu Metropolitan City in the year 2009. During the handover, KMC and the home ministry had signed a memorandum of understanding, which states that the government will provide two fire engines — one small and another big — with 29 fresh firefighters. But neither the brigade got fire engines nor firefighters.
Bhattarai points that the country needs a separate law to govern the operation of fire brigades. He argues that the fire brigade needs special authority to establish a network of fire brigades throughout the country and regulate them from the central office.