Firefighters to have the right to call off ‘dangerous missions’

Concerns of firefighter’s safety are rising recently in Taiwan society after two firefighters died earlier this month in fighting the fire in alleged illegal Taichung factory when there were no civilians were in danger. (NOWnews)
Concerns of firefighter’s safety are rising recently in Taiwan society after two firefighters died earlier this month in fighting the fire in alleged illegal Taichung factory when there were no civilians were in danger. (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — An amendment that cleared the parliament (Legislative Yuan) on Tuesday could give firefighters the right to call off “dangerous missions” for their own safety. The new bill, however, failed short of defining the meaning of “dangerous” for one of the most dangerous professions in Taiwan.

According to Legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) of the opposition New Power Party (時代力量), the amendment to the Fire Service Act (消防法) is flawed unless authorities define the scope of a “dangerous mission.”

Still, the amendment, which was passed in response to the recent passing of two young firefighters in Taichung, will officially take effect after promulgation by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), a step that is considered routine for the ruling party.

According to data from the National Fire Agency, 27 firefighters were killed and 424 were injured during “dangerous” missions between 2014 and 2018.

Thanks to the amendment firefighters and other rescuers can soon choose not to carry out a firefighting mission should they deem that no one is trapped at the scene, for instance.

National Fire Agency deputy chief and spokesman Chiang Chi-jen (江濟人) told CNA that the agency already gives firefighters the power to make the final call on whether or not to carry out a mission because they are on the front lines and are most qualified to determine how dangerous a mission is.

More importantly, the amendment gives firefighters more legal cover should they decide to withdraw from a mission they deem to be too “dangerous,” he said.

What constitutes a “dangerous mission” will be decided by the National Fire Agency, which is the central government authority in charge of firefighting under the Ministry of the Interior (MOI).

Chiang said the agency will come up with clear guidance to firefighters within six months on what constitutes dangerous situations after consulting with experts and local governments.

The same amendment also stipulates that factory owners should provide detailed information, including a list of chemicals stored in their factories and a clear map to firefighters before they carry out their mission. Violators will face a maximum fine of NT$600,000 (US$19,490).

A factory’s management should also send representatives to the scene of the fire to help firefighters deal with the blaze. Failure to do so could result in an NT$1.5 million fine.

The revision also requires the National Fire Agency to form an ad hoc investigative committee consisting of firefighter representatives and scholars to determine the cause of an accident should a rescuer or firefighter die or suffer from severe injuries during a mission.

The MOI said it will work with local government authorities in discussing how to carry out future firefighting missions and come up with follow-up measures based on the new laws, it said in a statement.

By Carol Kan with CNA