Mon, Oct 14, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Firefighters’ association calls for law to investigate deaths in line of duty

JOB HAZARD:Fifty-four percent of firefighters who were killed in the line of duty died due to reasons unrelated to fires, but their deaths are not probed, an advocate said

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Firefighters affiliated with the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights hold signs outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday calling for amendments to the Fire Services Act.

Photo: CNA

The National Association for Firefighters’ Rights yesterday called for legislation requiring the government to investigate line-of-duty deaths.

The association staged a 24-hour sit-in outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, which drew more than a dozen firefighters and labor rights advocates.

A total of 127 firefighters have died in the line of duty since the beginning of Taiwan’s firefighting service in 1952, but none of the deaths have been properly investigated, association secretary-general Chu Chih-yu (朱智宇) said.

“Were they killed by a faulty firefighting system, by poor equipment and unsafe strategies or the mismanagement of buildings and chemicals? What we would like is a chance to review the firefighting system,” he said.

While prosecutors are required to investigate fires, they are only responsible for determining the cause, and whether property owners or fire commanders should be held criminally liable for any casualties, association president Yang Shih-wei (楊適瑋) said.

Local fire departments have repeatedly refused to launch administrative inquiries into fires, saying they lack legal basis for such investigations, he said.

Without proper investigation, firefighters can only guess what might have caused their teammates to die, firefighter Weng Li-si (翁立思) said.

“We are left wondering if we would be able to avoid the same fate,” he said.

The association in October last year proposed a bill requiring authorities — with help from civic groups, academics and experts — to investigate the deaths of firefighters in the line of duty, Chu said.

Also included in the bill is a provision that would give firefighters the right to refuse to enter a burning building when there is no one to be rescued, the association said.

Although the bill has been adopted by lawmakers and cleared its first reading in December last year, it has been stuck in cross-caucus negotiations since May after the National Fire Agency intervened, Chu said.

The agency opposed the provisions that all on-duty deaths be subject to an administrative investigation, saying that only fire-related deaths should undergo such investigation, he said.

Fifty-four percent of firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty died from non-fire-related incidents during missions, such as while removing beehives or catching snakes or in traffic accidents, the association said.

The agency said it does not support launching probes into non-fire-related deaths because these involve professional knowledge outside of firefighting, Yang said.

“Why does the agency only investigates fire-related deaths when firefighters are required to do so many things unrelated to firefighting?” Yang said.

“When firefighters die performing the duties that the agency says are outside of their area of expertise, it does not even bother to find out why,” he added.

Lawmakers are today at 1pm to discuss the bill in a cross-caucus negotiation.

“We hope legislators from the four parties would hear our demands and not accept the agency’s proposed legislative version,” Yang said.

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