Sat, Sep 10, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Firefighters protest being forced to handle animals

ILL-EQUIPPED:Dealing with animals is not a statutory duty of firefighters, which results in them not receiving funding to purchase the proper equipment for the role

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Members of the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights hold up signs and snake mascots outside the Executive Yuan in Taipei yesterday to back their claim that catching snakes and other animals is outside their remit.

Photo: Liu Hsin-te, Taipei Times

More than a dozen firefighters yesterday protested in front of the Executive Yuan in Taipei, urging the government to stop requesting that firefighters save, catch or remove animals, which they said have caused numerous injuries due to insufficient training.

On Aug. 24, a 30-year-old firefighter stationed in Changhua County’s Erlin Township (二林) had two fingers amputated after being bitten by a snake on Aug. 14, when he was asked to catch a cobra at Changhua Prison.

Led by the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights, the protesters held banners that read: “The Council of Agriculture shows disregard for human life and the Executive Yuan remains indifferent to the issue” and “A blurred division of responsibilities causes us to be bitten or stung.”

Three firefighters have died and 10 firefighters have been injured over the past few years in so-called “public service” duties associated with handling animals, association secretary-general Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱) said, adding that these were only the cases that have been reported by the media.

“According to regulations, animals should be handled by specialists from local agricultural bureaus, coordinated by the council, but these bureaus use insufficient worker numbers as an excuse and demand that firefighters do the job for them,” she said.

When she asked who had been injured while performing such tasks, more than half of the firefighters raised their hands.

Firefighters are not trained to handle animals, raising their risk of injury, association director Wang Zhao-cheng (王炤程) said.

As handling animals is not a statutory duty of firefighters, they do not have the funding to purchase equipment for the task, Wang said, adding that benefits their relatives receive if they die carrying out such a duty is cut in half.

Association vice director Yu Tzung-han (余宗翰) cited several cases of firefighters being injured or killed while handling animals since 2007, saying firefighters were once given only barbecue tongs and plastic trash bags to capture ferret-badgers that might have been carrying rabies.

In addition to increasing the risk of injury, dispatching firefighters to deal with animals causes a personnel shortage to fulfill their original duties of putting out fires and saving lives, Yu said, adding that the nation has a shortage of about 15,000 firefighters.

“Do we have to die for the government to remove these secondary duties from our missions?” Wang asked, expressing the group’s hope that the Cabinet will hold a meeting with related agencies and allow frontline firefighters to attend.

Department of the Interior, Health, Welfare and Labor official Fang Te-sheng (方德勝) and National Fire Agency Deputy Director-General Hsieh Ching-hsu (謝景旭) met with the protesters outside the Executive Yuan, saying that they would convey the demands to their superiors for further discussion and that a decision has not been made on the coordination meeting.

Dissatisfied with the response, the firefighters threw paper snakes over the compound’s fence.

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