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Six firefighters killed reflect insufficient manpower, equipment

Six firefighters killed reflect insufficient manpower, equipment

Taipei, Jan. 21 (CNA) A fire in a three-story bowling alley in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan has not only taken the lives of six young firefighters aged between 21 and 29 but has also exposed a long-term lack of manpower and equipment in the country's firefighting system. "Please let us get back to real rescue missions," Yu Tsung-han (???), deputy chairman of the National Association for Firefighters' Rights, said in a post on his Facebook page after the tragedy a day earlier. He complained that firefighters are too busy rescuing cats and dogs to do what they are actually trained for and to receive further training. As long as the problem of manpower and equipment insufficiency is not resolved, there will be more "innocent brothers" sacrificed, said Yu, a firefighter in the Zhudong district of Hsinchu, a county that neighbors Taoyuan. Two of the six dead were his classmates. Yu publicized data on his FB page Tuesday indicating that an increasing number of firefighters have perished in the line of duty between 1962 and 2015. The number of firefighters who died while on duty stood at eight between 1962 and 1970, nine between 1971 and 1981, 13 between 1982 and 1992 and 31 between 1993 and 2003, Yu wrote, citing National Fire Department data. Between 2004 and 2015, a total of 42 firefighters have perished in the line of duty, Yu said, attributing the personnel loss to the lack of manpower and poor condition of the equipment with which firefighters are equipped. "We know that professional job assignment is the key factor in lowering the danger that faces firefighters at a fire scene," Yu said. However, the number of staff at fire departments around the country is currently 15,000 short of the number required. "Among 550 brigades around Taiwan ... 212, or 40 percent, each have fewer than six personnel available for duty each day," Yu said, noting that under such personnel deployment, "almost every man must hold a firehose, storming into a fire scene in person." "Compared with the United States, Japan and Hong Kong, the workload of local firefighters is four times higher," he added. While every U.S. fire brigade is equipped with a thermal imager, the entire Hsinchu County has only two of the kind. "With few people and a lack of equipment, how can we handle different urgent conditions?" Yu lamented. The bowling alley fire took the lives of most firefighters in a single incident since 1996, when a blaze at a chemical factory in Taoyuan killed three full-time firefighters and three volunteers. There were also six full-time and volunteer firefighters who died in gas explosions in Kaohsiung in late July and early August last year. Among the latest deaths, Tsai Chang-jung (???), 21, from the Yung'an Firefighting Brigade, was the youngest. While the incident sparked public criticism over allegations that junior personnel should not have been sent into the burning building, which was made of corrugated metal sheets, when it had been confirmed that no one was in the building, some grassroots firefighters said that it was not the fault of the command but a weak system suffering from the lack of personnel and advanced equipment. With tears on his face, Tang Chia-hsing (???), head of the Xinwu Firefighting Brigade, said the tragedy would not have happened "if I had also gone in." He also regretted not calling on those in the building to retreat 10 minutes sooner. On Wednesday, the Taoyuan Fire Department publicized the contents of seven radio communications between the command and firefighters in the building, showing that at least eight orders were issued demanding an immediate retreat. President Ma Ying-jeou (???) paid homage to the six dead at a funeral parlor in Taoyuan Wednesday and expressed his condolences to their family members. Earlier in the day, Hon Hai Precision Industry Chairman Terry Gou (???) offered his condolences and NT$1 million (US$31,735) for each family of the dead. Gou is a consultant to the National Federation of Volunteer Firefighters Associations. (By Elizabeth Hsu)


Updated : 2021-09-23 04:18 GMT+08:00