Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

More professional firefighting service needed

By Fan Xinhai (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-06 07:48

More professional firefighting service needed

Firefighters ask their colleagues to bring a stretcher after they found a body in the debris on Jan 3, 2015. The firemen were buried by debris while trying to put out the fire, which burnt down the third floor of a market warehouse at the Beifangnanxun ceramics market at 9:37 pm on Friday, killing firemen on the second floor. [Photo/IC]

Five young firefighters, aged between 18 and 22, were killed and another 14 injured in a warehouse blaze in Harbin, capital city of the Northeast China's Heilongjiang province. The cause of the fire on Jan 2, which resulted in the collapse of the building, is still being investigated.

This tragedy has once again highlighted the country's outdated firefighting system, along with the inefficient recruitment of firefighters. In the past five years, official statistics show that more than 140 firefighters have died on duty and more than 300 have been injured.

For starters, the lack of professional firefighting forces is so bad that about 290 counties reportedly have no trained firemen and most towns and villages do not have fire control supervisors.

To be specific, China has over 160,000 firemen on active duty, accounting for around 0.012 percent of its total population of more than 1.3 billion. Such a percentage is even lower than 0.16 to 0.19 percent of many other developing countries such as India, and far outnumbered by developed ones, such as the United States, Germany, and France, where 0.2 to 0.4 percent of their populations are firefighters.

In other words, only 1 out of every 10,000 Chinese people is a fireman, yet in the US, there are approximately 1 firemen for every 1,000 people. Meanwhile, most local fire departments in China have only two to five officials, who are assigned to supervise all the firefighting in a county. Given the increasing difficulties resulting from the growing population, the country requires more highly professionalized and experienced firefighters with up-to-date equipment.

China, unlike many other countries, still resorts to military-style compulsory service to recruit its firefighters due to the historical and economic restrictions decades ago. Such a mechanism worked well for quite a long time, because it succeeded in enrolling a slew of young soldiers at relatively low expense.

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