Alex Chu, who appealed for the welfare of Taiwanese firefighters in a recent article on CNN’s iReport Web site, said yesterday that he hoped local firefighters would be given a healthier working environment.
In the article titled “Go! Taiwan Firefighters,” Chu said he wanted the world to see how understaffed and overworked the Taiwanese firefighters were.
Firefighters are the only civil servants not protected under the Civil Service Protection Act (公務人員保障法), Chu said. He added that according to the National Audit Office, “of the 23,000 firefighters in Taiwan, actually qualified firefighters number less than 10,000, the number of non-qualified firefighters is as high as 13,000, with the ratio of qualified to non-qualified firefighters at almost 1:1.”
Chu also wrote in the article that “firefighters have to work approximately 100 hours per week, working two days and taking one day off” in cities other than Greater Kaohsiung and Taipei, where firefighters work one day and take the next off.
The system is unfair to the firefighters, who are tasked with so many responsibilities, but instead of allowing them to fight for their rights, the government is intervening and trying to discourage people from demonstrating, Chu’s article said.
The article mentioned information gathered from firefighters themselves, who spoke how Hsu Kuo-yao (徐國堯), a firefighter in Greater Kaohsiung, was transferred to a job 50km from his residence and received a demerit for organizing — through Facebook — the “Legal working hours to save the firefighters” event set for Aug. 31.
The Ministry of the Interior said participants in the event would receive a grade of “C” on their annual evaluations, while other fire stations have scheduled large-scale exercises on the date of the event to reduce the number of people attending, the article said.
Chu said the government, the people and the system itself all contributed to the excessive stress of firefighters in Taiwan who have to take on multiple roles, including some not even within their jurisdiction.
Drawing on his own experience as a volunteer firefighter in the US, Chu, who emigrated to the US before moving back to Taiwan, said many places in the US gave firefighters 48 hours of rest for every 24 hours of work.
“All they [the firefighters] want is humane working hours for firefighters, all they want is to make their job more professional by not doing other departments’ jobs and all they want is respect,” he said.