Opinion / From the Press

Professionalize fire department ...

By Liu Wujun (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-15 08:18

Professionalize fire department ...

Firefighters return from the warehouse area, where they were involved in rescue operations.[ZHU XINGXIN/CHINA DAILY]

As a special occupation that requires skills and expertise, the fire department should be professionalized. This will make firefighters more efficient, reduce material losses and keep casualties to the minimum. The professionalization process should be gradual, though. It can start with pilot projects in some cities, and should be extended nationwide only after fulfilling all the requirements.

Firefighters in China are more vulnerable than their counterparts in advanced countries because fire brigades don't have enough staff and most of them lack special skills. And there are not enough firefighters because the low salaries they get don't attract youths.

The deaths of 20 firefighters in a big fire in Hengyang, Hunan province, in 2003 triggered a nationwide call for the professionalization of the fire department. But no proper reform has been implemented.

In advanced countries, firefighters can work until they reach the retirement age, after which they get government pension. But in such countries, people applying for a firefighter's job should be at least high school graduates, and new recruits are allowed to join the force only after undergoing professional training and passing the assessment test. This is important because a professional fire department can provide better protection for its staff and attract educated and skilled people, as we see in the advanced countries.

Firefighting is a specialized job in which heroism and instinct cannot replace professional skills and experience. But in China, most of the firefighters are active soldiers posted in the fire department for two years, and those on the frontline of firefighting are mostly youths with little experience. Besides, if soldiers who gain good experience in firefighting fail to get promoted as a sergeant within those two years, they are demobilized, leaving only a low percentage of capable firefighters.

Although firefighters have been recruited from among civilians at local levels in recent years to fulfill the required numbers, poor salaries and lack of promotion opportunities force many of them to look for better-paying jobs.

In a world where fire hazards have increased manyfold, no country can do without a professionally trained, well-equipped firefighting force. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from advanced countries about how to build a professional fire department in order to improve efficiency and reduce casualties.

The article first appeared on PPC Daily.

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