Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Firefighters still waiting for Cabinet action on handling wasp, snake duties

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

New Power Party Legislator Hsu Yung-ming, left, accompanied by a firefighters’ rights campaigner, speaks at a news conference in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Wang Yi-sung, Taipei Times

Little progress has been made to fulfill an Executive Yuan promise to transfer responsibility for dealing with wasps and snakes away from local fire departments, New Power Party Legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) said yesterday at a news conference with a firefighter rights group.

Dealing with pests and other hazards has drawn firefighters away from their core duties, they said.

“The central government has not given local governments a very strong incentive,” Hsu said, accusing central government agencies of “slacking off” on the issue and only approving subsidies of up to 30 percent of local governments’ extra costs. “Many of the localities with the greatest number of cases are also in the tightest financial straits. The Council of Agriculture should not just take the position that it has done something and local governments are responsible for the rest.”

Current council plans call for providing different levels of subsidies to local governments for up to three years, with seven of the nation’s 22 local governments eligible for the maximum 30 percent level of support.

They were proposed in January after the Executive Yuan intervened in a dispute with the National Fire Agency to force the council to assist in transferring responsibility from local fire departments to the council’s local agencies.

However, implementation has stalled, with 13 local governments having yet to make the transfer, Hsu said, blasting the Executive Yuan for failing to take a firmer stance on the issue and to approve the council’s initial NT$130 million (US$4.28 million) subsidy request.

Local governments have the authority to determine the allocation of duties among their agencies. The Legislative Yuan only possesses authority to cut appropriations, with Executive Yuan agencies responsible for drafting budget requests.

“Failure to approve the budget shows that all the talk of coordination and transfer has been empty talk,” National Association for Firefighters’ Rights vice president Yu Tzung-han (余宗翰) said, urging the central government to set a definite timeline for the transfer of responsibilities.

Even though only city mayors or county commissioners have the authority to directly change the scope of duties handled by firefighters, a stronger position on the part of the National Fire Agency would encourage them to make the shift, Yu said.

“Currently, our case figures are completely upside down,” he said, citing National Fire Agency figures that firefighters handled 85,099 snake and wasp cases last year versus 48,019 fire-related incidents.

“This seriously affects our safety, because we do not receive any training on how to handle wasps and snakes, making us vulnerable to injury,” he said.

“It would be acceptable for us to continue handling these duties during nighttime hours, as long as daytime cases are handled elsewhere,” he said, citing a Taoyuan program where the city government has transferred responsibility for dealing with daytime snake and wasp incidents to volunteer firefighters.

Wu Wu-tai (吳武泰), director of the National Fire Agency’s Disaster Rescue Division, said that all but three local governments have plans to transfer the responsibilities, with many waiting to receive funding before beginning implementation.

Forestry Bureau conservation division director Hsia Jung-sheng (夏榮生), whose bureau is responsible for the Council of Agriculture’s budget subsidy proposal, said the bureau only has the authority to provide “incentives” to local bodies to take up the duties, with local governments also free to decide when and how to provide the service.

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