China / Society

Safety issues heat up for firefighters

By Zhang Yan and Wang Xiaodong (China Daily) Updated: 2015-02-25 07:28

Safety issues heat up for firefighters

Firefighters carry the body of a dead colleague on a stretcher after a warehouse fire in the northeastern city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province in January. Five firefighters died fighting the blaze and 14 people were injured. Xiao Jingbiao / For China Daily

Experts say a lack of professionalism and poor training are hampering China's fire departments, and putting lives at risk, report Zhang Yan and Wang Xiaodong.

Even after 15 years as a firefighter, Dai Yaqiang still has to muster all his courage every time he enters a burning building.

"Honestly, when we arrive at a scene, no one really wants to go into the fire," the 33-year-old said. "No one knows the exact site of the fire in the building, or how many flammable items are inside, and no one can predict how the fire will behave from one moment to the next."

Dai, head of the Shuangyushu Brigade of the Beijing Fire Department, has attended more incidents than he can remember. He said many of the fires posed no threat to life, and some had even been extinguished before he and his colleagues arrived. However, other calls required careful calculation and monitoring as firefighters searched through the smoke-filled, darkened rooms, constantly aware of the possibility of a roof or wall collapse.

Last year, Dai's 60-strong team attended about 1,400 incidents in the Haidian district of Beijing. In recent years a large number of fires across the country have not only resulted in a high casualty count and huge loss of property, but also attracted widespread attention from the media and public at home and overseas.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that in China firefighters are recruited from army conscripts, who receive a limited amount of basic training before being sent to a brigade to sink or swim.

In 2013, there were 388,000 fires in China, more than double the previous year, and the death toll was 2,113. The number of casualties also doubled compared with 2012, according to figures released by the Ministry of Public Security.

Fifteen firefighters died in the line of duty in 2014, as brigades around the country attended more than 1.2 million fires and/or rescue operations, according to statistics released by the ministry.

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