Firefighters, locals brawl

BLAZING EMOTIONS::Firefighters were hampered by a lack of water and problems opening up fire hydrants. Seven factories or warehouses and a shop were destroyed

By Chen Chien-chih and Jason Pan  /  Staff writer, with staff reporter

Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - Page 5

A firefighting unit in Greater Taichung headed out to a fire on Saturday last week, but ran into disputes with one of the business owners in the affected buildings and some of the firemen ended up in a free-for-all fight with the people they were there to help.

Four people were injured and required medical treatment.

The fire broke out at an industrial zone in Wufeng District (霧峰) late on Saturday night and eventually consumed seven factories or warehouses and a furniture store.

The store owner, surnamed Tai (戴), and his family had rushed to the scene to try and save some of the items in the store. However, Tai began arguing with the firefighters, leading to two rounds of fisticuffs on the streets, as some bystanders also joined in the melee.

Tai accused the firefighters of being slow and sloppy after firemen could not unloosen the caps on the fire hydrants and some fire hoses ran out of water within five minutes.

According to eyewitnesses, some bystanders began to yell at firefighters, accusing them of not doing their jobs, prompting one fireman to say: “We have run out of water. So what are you angry about?”

The witnesses then quoted Tai as saying: “You guys did not bring enough water. Are you here just to wash the road?”

A beer bottle thrown by a bystander then hit a volunteer fireman surnamed Huang (黃) on the head.

After more verbal exchanges, Tai and some bystanders started pushing and shoving the firefighters, triggering a short brawl. The fighting flared up again when other firemen came to confront Tai.

By that time, Tai’s two sons were at the scene, and a second round of fisticuffs broke out with the Tai family battling the volunteer firemen as both sides traded punches, kicks and tackles.

The four injured, including members of the Tai family and firefighters, suffered cuts and bruises, with one person suffering a minor concussion.

Tai said one of the firemen smelled of alcohol, and he accused the firefighter of drinking on duty.

“He seemed to have drank quite a lot and still turned out to fight the fire? It is outrageous,” he said.

Greater Taichung No. 3 Fire Department Captain Wang Shih-ming (王士銘) said he understood the feelings of the people who watched their businesses burned down.

Wang said that 19 vehicles, including fire engines and ambulances, were dispatched to the fire.

“The first fire engine on the scene carried only four tonnes of water, which was used up in five minutes. The blaze spread quickly, so we had to distribute the fire hose lines through the whole affected area,” he said.

“There were seven factories and warehouses burning. Our firefighter units could not concentrate on just one place, but had to spread out over a wide area to contain the blaze,” he added.

Wang said there were “misunderstandings” that led to the confrontations and brawls, which he regretted, adding that the department would review the matter.

“We will ask the volunteer firemen to keep their emotions in check,” he said.