Crucial yet left without care
Around one and a half years ago, Dhaka North City Corporation procured three turntable ladders for dousing flames at high-rise buildings.
Each turntable ladder -- a power-operated extending ladder mounted on a fire engine -- was brought to Dhaka from Germany at a cost of Tk 9 crore under a Tk 746.05-crore project funded by the World Bank.
Months after the procurement, a government inspection team, however, found two of the ladders lying idle at the fire service headquarters in the capital.
One of the ladders, which can reach up to 12 storeys for fire control, was found to be faulty while the other got damaged partially. Both now require repair, the team from Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) said in a report.
This newspaper learnt from sources that the third ladder also became non-functional recently.
The IMED also said different types of equipment bought under the project are now gathering dust at different emergency response warehouses and satellite control rooms across the capital.
Over 50 types of light search and rescue equipment remained unused there. In the absence of proper maintenance, many sensitive equipment are at the risk of being damaged, the IMED mentioned in the report after its team visited different such establishments.
The IMED recently released the report on the project titled "Urban Resilience Project-DNCC Part" being implemented by the DNCC.
The Daily Star correspondents also visited at least four such warehouses and control rooms on July 8 and found those under lock and key.
The IMED report said the agencies involved in the project, including the city corporations and the fire service, do not have any organisational setup for urban resilience. There is also no allocation for maintenance of those equipment, which may threaten the project's sustainability.
The IMED recommended arranging necessary funds for maintenance and repair of equipment, setting up garages and appointing skilled manpower and providing them with necessary training.
WHY THE PROJECT?
The government took up the project aimed at strengthening institutional capacity to tackle different natural disasters, including fire incidents and earthquakes.
Re-enforcing the country's emergency response capacity is one of the four components of the umbrella project. The DNCC is implementing one of the sub-projects at a cost of Tk 746.05 crore. Of the amount, the WB is providing Tk 731.50 crore.
Under the project, the authorities are to set up different establishments and procure 74 types of emergency equipment for the DNCC, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Sylhet City Corporation (SCC).
The establishments include two emergency operating centres, 10 satellite control rooms, two fixed and two mobile emergency command and control rooms, and 23 emergency response warehouses.
The project, which witnessed 80 percent progress till April, was supposed to be implemented between July 2015 and June 2020. But the deadline was extended till June 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.
The authorities then sought further extension of project deadline and raise of costs. If the revised proposal is approved, the project cost would be Tk 805.90 crore and the deadline would be April 2022, shows relevant documents.
The proposal is now pending approval from the Planning Commission.
According to the IMED report, an inspection team visited life-saving and Information and Communications Technology equipment at the headquarters of Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCF) in the capital's Bangabazar in May.
The three turntable ladders were there.
"During the inspection, one of the three supplied turntable ladders was found operational while foreign experts were seen working to repair the PTO [power take off] system of another [ladder]," reads the report.
"Side plate of the third turntable ladder got damaged while it was being taken to the garage. The supplier was informed about repairing it and necessary arrangements in this regard was being made."
A large number of ICT equipment had been kept at the FSCD site in Purbachal and the inspection team, which visited the site the same day, could not see the equipment as those were still in boxes.
The team visited an emergency response warehouse beside the DSCC regional office-3 in Azimpur on April 28.
No ambulance or any other vehicle for carrying bodies was found on the ground floor of the Azimpur warehouse and it seemed that the CCTV there was not operational, said the report.
"Like in other warehouses, there is an acute lacking of maintenance here. Dust gathered on the rooms of the warehouse and unused equipment lying there. There is possibility that delicate equipment can be damaged," reads the report.
The team visited a Mirpur warehouse the same day. The IMED attached five photos of the warehouse with its report.
One of the photos shows an unused ambulance while others show layers of dust on unused generators, furniture and other equipment.
The team also visited a Karwan Bazar warehouse on May 25 and found that its entrance was narrowed down by materials kept at the roadside for several under-construction buildings.
The main gate of the warehouse was blocked by bricks to be used for an under-construction park and it would not be possible to bring out equipment for rescue operations immediately after any incident.
"As in the other warehouses, equipment was left unused there in the absence of dedicated manpower for maintenance. Risks are there that the equipment would become non-functional," it said.
The IMED made similar observations about the Mohakhali and Kalyanpur warehouses and satellite control rooms in Azimpur, Mirpur-10, Karwan Bazar and Mohakhali.
The satellite control room in Karwan Bazar is on the first floor of the warehouse.
"Necessary ICT equipment for the satellite control room has not been installed yet. There was a layer of dust on a server and a digital inverter at the control satellite room," reads the report with which two photos of the control room were attached to show the present condition there.
WHAT THE DAILY STAR SAW?
These correspondents visited the warehouses and control rooms in Mohakhali and Karwan Bazar on July 8.
The warehouse and control room in Mohakhali were set up inside a two-storey steel structure near the DNCC regional office-3.
The warehouse, where a signboard was put up with the names of 53 equipment stored there, was locked. Grasses grew in front of the structure, giving a clear indication that the authorities seldom open the warehouse.
Contacted, Faruk Hasan Md Al Masud, executive engineer of area-3 of the DNCC, said the ambulances under the project were being used for the DNCC's Covid-dedicated hospital.
Replying to another question, Masud said he keeps the key of the warehouse and they open it whenever required. He requested these correspondents to talk to the project officials to know further about it.
Visiting the Karwan Bazar warehouse and the control room, The Daily Star correspondents found the two-storey steel-structure encircled by a fence of corrugated iron-sheet. There were dozens of makeshifts shops around the fence.
The fence was put up to secure an under-construction part of a park. When these correspondents went to the other side of the fence through a narrow gate, three to four construction workers were found working at the park and the warehouse was locked.
Asked, one of the workers said the warehouse was last opened during the Ramadan, more than two months ago.
WHAT THE AUTHORITIES SAY?
Contacted, Project Director Tariq Bin Yousuf said they handed over the warehouses and control rooms to the zonal executive offices of the city corporation concerned around two years ago and that they were supposed to do the maintenance work.
But the equipment is not being used due to the pandemic, he claimed, adding that different zonal offices and NGOs used to hold meetings at the control rooms previously.
He said the emergency operation centre would be set up in the next two or three months, connecting all zonal offices to the centre.
Asked about the Karwan Bazar warehouse, he said the fence was made to secure the under-construction part of the park and that there would be enough space for entrance after the completion of the work.
He said the development work was scheduled to be completed last year but it got delayed due to the pandemic.
About faults in one of the three turntable ladders, he said they were yet to receive the ladders officially, and that the supplier would fix the faulty one.
Asked about the IMED observations, he said the IMED did not seek any explanations from them.
Mostafizur Rahman, proprietor of Sadman Associates, local agent of Rosenbauer AG which supplied the ladders, said they handed over two ladders to the fire service "unofficially" and decided to hand over the other after fixing some "faults" detected by the company experts.
But fire service officials damaged a portion of one of the two ladders later while bringing it out of a garage, he said, adding that they had already received spare parts for both the ladders.
"But the experts who are supposed to fix it could not come to Dhaka due to Covid. We assured the project authorities and the fire service that the experts will fix it once the Covid situation improved," he told The Daily Star on July 15.
He also said the fire service "damaged" the third ladder while using it lately. "We will also fix the ladder at our cost."
Contacted, DNCC Mayor Md Atiqul Islam said the maintenance work was not done due to the Covid situation.
He said they would arrange a meeting soon with the FSCD, Red Crescent Society, Scouts and other volunteer organisations so that trained people remained ready to use the equipment.
"We will ensure mock exercises every three months so that everything remains functional."