Firefighters are tasked with the critical role of saving lives. However, in Korea, poor working conditions render this responsibility a burden to carry out. To help further their cause, a petition was uploaded to the website Cheongwadae by a fireman looking to trigger much needed change. As a result, attention is growing for the need to improve the working conditions of firefighters.
The primary responsibility of firefighters is to prevent and respond to fires and disasters. In the process, they protect properties from fire damage and save lives by administering first-aid treatment during an emergency. However, most of these people, who take risks for the sake of others, are not officially recognized as federal government employees under the current law. Currently, there are 52,245 firemen in the country. Despite being a job that saves lives, only 630 have been designated national officials, while the remaining 51,615 firefighters are deemed local officials. As a result, there are fragmented fire services across the nation, depending on the region they serve and the priority the local government places on their services. For instance, in areas with a good budget, firefighters have regular access to new life saving equipment, while firefighters who work in areas with less of a budget, have to buy critical equipment using their own personal funds. In other words, this lack of uniform budget has meant it is difficult for some area firefighters to prepare adequate fire prevention plans and purchase the equipment they need for firefighting. In addition, the fragmented approach to firefighting plans across the nation has led to difficulties when collaboration between local firemen is required.
|▲ Fire fighter after extinguishing fire. (Photo from Hani.co.kr)|
To learn more about the problems facing our nation’s firefighters the Dankook Herald (the DKH) interviewed Mr. K, a firefighter with 10 years of experience on the job in the provinces. Mr. K explained that while progress has been made on a lot of problem areas, many obstacles remain. In the past, firefighters had to compensate people for any property damage they may have caused in the process of suppressing a fire. However, a new law was passed to make sure that responsibility was no longer theirs. While this is a tremendous basic improvement, key problem areas remain. One of which relates to injuries sustained while on the job.
When a firefighter is injured while fighting a fire, if there is enough evidence to prove the injury was a direct result of the job, the treatment is covered by the employer. However, there are so many variables involved while saving lives. As a result, it is not always easy to prove an injury was a direct result of their job. In this case, the firefighter is not compensated for their injuries. According to Mr. K, this is a serious problem that remains to be addressed.
Mr. K also highlighted the problem of fragmented services that result from the designation of local firefighters as regional public service employees instead of national ones. Under the current system, different regions have different budgets for firefighting and prevention services. Some provinces that allocate smaller budgets for firefighters don’t supply basic equipment to fight fires and also don’t hold fire prevention events. If firefighters were designated national public service employees, this problem can be addressed through uniform budgets and national plans for fire prevention.
While these are all critical issues, Mr. K explained the most pressing problem they face is the current shift system. Firefighters are under a lot of stress working under these conditions firefighters works every day, and they also work at night. This repeating irregular working hour makes firefighters more exhausted. He suggests instead a 3-shift-system. The 3-shift-system is when firefighters work for 24 hours then relax to reduce their stress for 48 hours. This system gives them enough time to recover and their judgment won’t be clouded by the stress of long hours with no break. Mr. K is hopeful they improve the shift system as soon as possible.
Institutional improvements to firefighting services continue to take place. For instance, to address the problem of ambulance worker assault, a special judicial police officer from the fire department has been tasked with investigating the suspect before handing the case over to the police. There is also an on-going effort to transfer firefighters from regional to national government service jobs. Also, a law was enacted that allows firefighters to remove vehicles and objects that impact the abilities of firefighters to do their jobs. It is clear that the system and treatment of firefighters is getting better. However, these small improvements are not enough. There are still fire stations that cannot do their jobs properly because of a lack of budget. For the safety of Koreans and their property, the treatment of firefighters should be improved. We should take interest in their plight and push for an improvement in their working conditions. This way, firefighters can enjoy a better working environment, citizens can feel safer and the damage caused by fires will most assuredly decrease.
|▲ The fire truck is stucked because of illegal parked cars (Photo from The Chosun News)|
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