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Firefighters protest lack of manpower and equipment

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- In the wake of the deaths of six firefighters in the Kaohsiung gas explosions, over 100 firefighters yesterday staged a demonstration outside the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) building, demanding the government respect firefighter's interests and rights.

Save Firefighters (消防員工作權益促進會), the organizer of the demonstration, yesterday said a total of 12 firefighters have died in the line of duty since 2013, pointing out that the cause of their deaths was a lack of manpower and equipment.

Save Firefighter Secretary-General Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱) said the Kaohsiung gas explosions took away six firefighters' lives, noting that firefighters tempt fate every time they go out on duty. She said if a firefighter survives then it is a matter of luck.

A firefighter surnamed Hsu, who serves in the Kaohsiung City Government, said he might have to face administrative punishment after participating in this demonstration, but he still has to make a plea and fight for his group's interests.

Hsu said he has not changed his firefighter suit in over six years and he works 24 hours nonstop every other day. He said, on average, he works 360 hours every month.

Hsu went on to criticize the Kaohsiung City Government for not caring about the importance of having professional knowledge for handling different types of disasters. He said that the firefighters did not have the experience, judgment and equipment to handle chemical explosions. To rescue the victims from the propene explosions was like seeking one's own death, he added.

In response, National Fire Agency (NFA) Deputy Director-General Huang Neng-han (黃能漢) said currently there are a total of 13,313 firefighters in Taiwan and the number of vacancies is 1,427. Huang said his agency is scheduled to recruit 2,925 people by 2017 to fill the vacancies across Taiwan.

As for the issue of a lack of equipment, Huang said 50 gas detectors were distributed to the rescue team to ensure the firefighters' safety during the rescue operations for the Kaohsiung explosions.

In order to ease the firefighter's burdens, the deputy director-general further said that Cabinet Minister without Portfolio Chiang Been-huang (蔣丙煌) will convene a meeting with the Council of Agriculture on Aug. 25 to discuss the feasibility of transferring the duty of rescue animals from the firefighters to local animal protection organizations.

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A demonstrator speaks outside the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) building, yesterday. Save Firefighters (消防員工作權益促進會) yesterday staged a demonstration demanding that the government value the interests and rights of firefighters. (CNA)

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