Thu, Mar 08, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Retired officer on dangers, virtue of quarantine work

By William Hetherington  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Borders do not matter to viruses, so the public must rely on quarantine officers to keep them at bay, said 81-year-old Kang Chi-chang (康啟彰) as he discussed his experiences over a 31-year career in quarantine work and his motivation for doing such a dangerous job.

The work often involves danger, such as climbing five-story-tall ships by rope ladder at sea or venturing deep into areas affected by dangerous viruses, he said.

“It is worth [the risk] to protect the public’s health,” Kang said.

The work also involves investigations and prevention measures at all of the nation’s ports of entry.

Kang, who retired in 2003 from the Hualien Port inspection station, had many responsibilities over the years, including inspecting animals, dissecting disease-carrying mosquitos, capturing rats on ships and performing health and safety inspections on vessels entering ports.

He became very good at catching rodents within five months of being given that task, and invented his own baited trap in 1989, he said.

Due to the small staff at the Hualien station, he was required to take on a wide range of responsibilities, Kang said, adding: “It was such an honor to be involved in quarantine work. It is very valuable work for society.”

Whenever foreign ships make ports of call in Taiwan, quarantine officers must board small boats to meet the ships at sea, where they brave strong winds and waves to climb rope ladders onto the ships to perform inspections, he said.

A lack of safety harnesses makes this part of the process particularly dangerous, he said.

In his early days, Kang said there was a quarantine officer who was climbing a ladder to board a ship when another boat passed by too closely, pinning him between the two vessels and severing one of his legs, Kang said.

In another instance, a quarantine officer fell from a ladder into the ocean, but survived after a member of the ship’s crew threw him a life preserver, he added.

Explaining the importance of capturing rodents before they reach shore, Kang cited a case in the early 1990s, when a couple was infected with hantavirus — a rodent-borne virus that affects the circulatory system.

They died shortly after in hospital, he said.

“At the time, all we had to protect ourselves were surgical masks. We would put on the masks and then march right into the quarantined areas to catch mice,” Kang said, adding that he was never afraid.

“If you are afraid, you simply will not do the job,” he said.

Since retiring, Kang has visited the Hualien station to provide training assistance to newer officers charged with catching rodents, and he has been called upon to help officers in the nation’s south during dengue fever outbreaks.

In his new book, Centers for Disease Control Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said quarantine officers are unsung heroes.

“Even when they do a great job, there is no applause. I truly thank them for their unwavering persistence in protecting the safety of the nation,” Chou wrote.

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