Nepal | July 03, 2020

EDITORIAL: Trial by fire

The Himalayan Times
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The burning question after Monday’s plane crash is: Are we well-equipped with personnel and gears to fight massive fires?

Aviation experts and people involved in security and rescue operation believe that more people could have been saved from the charred wreckage of US-Bangla Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 crash at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) had the firemen been well-equipped with proper personnel and protective gears for the rescue and response operation. A total of 49 people lost their lives when the aircraft crashed on landing on the only runway of the sole international airport on March 12. However, 22 people could be saved from the burning aircraft that flew from Dhaka, Bangladesh. The plane crash-landed at 2:18 pm and immediately burst into flames after skidding off the runway towards dry grassland. One of the firefighters involved in the rescue and response mission said they could not enter the active fire in and around the aircraft due to lack of “suitable entry suits”, which is mandatory for such hazardous situations. The rescue and fire-fighting foam tenders, however, had reached the crash site within three minutes as specified by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. However, it took them for over half an hour to reach the intensely burning wreckage due to lack of “aluminised fire entry suits”.

The firefighters who managed to rescue 22 people from the wreckage were from the part of the plane that did not catch the fire. They doused the fire after struggling for over 45 minutes but could save none from the burning part of the plane. Doctors at the TU Teaching Hospital who conducted the post-mortem said most of the deaths occurred due to “inhalation of toxic fumes”. It implies that victims were alive despite the impact with high intensity. Had the firefighters been well-equipped with the proper equipment – aluminised fire entry suits – they could have saved more lives, if not all. Officials at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had issued the firefighting squad only with “fire proximity suits” which was not suitable for entering the active fire area. It shows the firefighters at TIA were not fully prepared and well-equipped to deal with a large scale fire like the one involving the BS211 flight. What will the firefighters do if bigger scale fire takes place on a wide body jets? The main question is why the concerned officials did not issue fire entry suits to the firefighters. Or they did not have it at all?

Fire is a common hazard after earthquake, landslides and floods. However, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has only two fire engines, operated by Juddha Barun Yantra. It coordinates with others in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. Out of the total 217 municipalities in the country, only 73 of them have fire engines. The Kathmandu Valley’s population is rising rapidly, so is the number of high-rise buildings. But the fire engines that we have are old fashioned and cannot fight a fire above a five-storey building. The firefighters must be well-trained with modern equipment and logistic supports so that they can rescue people even from an apartment of a high-rise building. If the government gives permission to build a multi-storey building, it must be well-prepared for immediate rescue operation in the event of an emergency, be it a blaze or an earthquake.

Waste from Everest

Around 5,000 kg of non-burnable and non-biodegradable waste was flown from Lukla to Kathmandu on Saturday under the Everest Clean-up Campaign 2018. Yeti Airlines and its subsidiary Tara Air, as part of their commitment to UN Sustainable Goals, flew the waste, which included beer bottles and cans, empty foods tins and discarded mountaineering and trekking equipment, from the Everest region to Kathmandu where they were later handed over Blue Waste to Value for recycling. Yeti Airlines has been working in coordination with the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee and the Himalayan Club in removing the non-burnable and non-biodegradable waste from the region since 2018.

After making the first ascent to Mt Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary, a decade later, helped build the Lukla airport, opening up the trekking trail to the world’s highest mountain. Just as the trekking route from Lukla to Everest Base Camp became popular, it also started getting littered with garbage. The Himalayan region is now facing grave environment threat from waste. The effort to fly garbage out of the region hence is a commendable move, and all those involved in this drive deserve a Himalayan salute.


A version of this article appears in print on March 19, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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