Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Heated exchanges precede fire review

PROTESTS:Firefighter representatives were eventually allowed into the Taoyuan meeting, while hundreds rallied to call for transparency in a firefighting legislation review

By Chiu Yi-tung and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Taoyuan Fire Department Chief Hu Ying-ta, third left, talks to members of the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights after the Greater Taoyuan City government refused them admission to a review meeting yesterday.

Photo: Chiu Yi-tung, Taipei Times

Attempts yesterday by the Greater Taoyuan government to refuse National Association for Firefighters’ Rights members admission to a review meeting about a fire that claimed the lives of six firefighters on Tuesday caused a clash between the City Fire Department and family members of the dead men, ultimately forcing Taoyuan Fire Department Chief Hu Ying-ta (胡英達) to allow the association members in.

The fire in the municipality’s Sinwu District (新屋) and the resulting deaths has caused a backlash from the firefighters’ relatives and association members, with more than 50 gathering in front of the city hall yesterday in anger, protesting over what they say is a long-standing deficiency in the municipal government’s staff and equipment, as well as a negligent, outdated firefighting administration.

Despite the initial refusal to admit association members into the meeting, Hu finally bowed to pressure and allowed the association president, vice president and other senior staff to sit in on the meeting.

According to the association, over the past two years, the nation has lost 19 firefighters, despite the association’s efforts to warn the government three years ago of inherent problems in the structure of the firefighting system.

“We have suggested and are still suggesting three main points of change to the system; first to allow base-level firefighters to participate and give input during meetings on reforms, and to address the lack of staff and equipment as the second and third points respectively,” the association said.

The government needs to listen to firefighters because they are the ones on the front lines and know best what they need in terms of labor and equipment, the association said, adding that firefighters should form a neutral third party and should be present during equipment purchases.

Meanwhile, in Taipei, hundreds of people led by Fire Protection Engineers Association Union honorary chairman Ho Chou-tsung (何岫璁) staged a protest, calling on the Control Yuan, the Legislative Yuan and the Ministry of the Interior to condemn any sort of closed-door deals on a draft act on firefighting equipment and personnel.

The government should be transparent in its debates over the legislation and invite professionals to partake in the process, Ho said.

Since the Wei Er Kang Restaurant fire in Taichung in 1995 that caused 64 deaths and 11 injuries, the government has allowed firefighters to temporarily become either fire protection technicians or fire protection engineers, to conduct equipment and installment inspections without passing national examinations, to fill a shortfall until enough trained staff were hired for those roles.

However, the draft act is considering allowing people to fill these roles permanently without having to pass any sort of national examination, Ho said, adding that this would compromise firefighting safety.

While these firefighters are restricted to inspecting buildings of five stories or less, Ho said that the Sinwu incident occurred in a building meeting such criteria.

In response, Deputy Minister of the Interior Chiu Chang-yueh (邱昌嶽) accepted the complaints on behalf of the ministry and promised continued communication with all parties to improve the nation’s management of firefighting personnel and equipment.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan

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