On January 20th, six volunteer firefighters died in Hsinwu District in Taoyuan after a major fire broke out at a local bowling stadium.

Taoyuan’s emergency call center first received report of the fire at 2:02 AM on Tuesday morning. Although fire was under control at 2:29 AM, the commander in charge that night, surnamed Tang, sent a team of six firefighters to the second floor at 2:45 AM to look for the cause of the fire.As thick smoke started billowing out from the second floor at 2:52 AM, Commander Tang tried to ask the team to evacuate through walkie-talkie but failed to receive any response after several attempts. An explosion occurred two minutes later, and by 5:05 AM all six were confirmed dead as their bodies were retrieved.

On Friday, representatives from National Association for Firefighters’ Rights, firefighters and other support groups held a press conference, demanding the government to solve the problems of personnel and equipment shortage. Yu Tsung-Han (余宗翰), Vice President of the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights, said that the long term personnel shortage problem and wasteful spending are the main causes to the 19 tragic deaths of firefighters in the past two years. A firefighter surnamed Cheng said that commanders often have to unwillingly send firefighters into the scene even when there are no obvious signs of burning or danger. In addition, Cheng said, evacuation protocols are vague, and administrative paperwork can be a serious burden.

A firefighter surnamed Lee also revealed that firefighters are not given enough time for training, and they are often banned from speaking to the public. Other supporters emphasized that what firefighters need is not monetary compensation, but to be able to return home safely.

Hu Ing-Da (胡英達), head of the Taoyuan City Fire Department, promised to allow members from the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights to participate in a review conference of the incident on Friday. He also announced some immediate changes to firefighter’s scope of work in Taoyuan. Mayor Cheng Wen-Tsan (鄭文燦) has also promised that firefighters no longer need to perform any side tasks that are not required by the law, and that firefighters should be included in the discussion of equipment enhancement. Taoyuan now plans to recruit 600 more firefighters in the next three years.

Hu said that Taoyuan plans to shorten firefighters’ on-duty hour to 12 hours, but critics said even with the originally planned 1,688 firefighters, the number is still too low to handle major emergency under the proposed 12 hour on-duty time.

(Feature photo of a fire station in Taipei, by Lord Koxinga on Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

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