Gao Ming, the fire chief of Jinan, east China's Shandong Province, said that as a result of the shortened learning process of firefighters, even some commanders are not qualified; the firefighting forces in general, especially younger firefighters, haven't developed sufficient self-protection awareness in face of enormous dangers.
Gao said that the guidelines and tactics in training firefighters in China are more focused on saving lives of other people and fail to put enough emphasis on the safety of firefighters themselves. As a result, younger firefighters often cannot keep a cool head in face of a complex situation. "Some don't realize that they are about to reach their physical limits until it is too late. This is why many tragedies take place," said Gao.
To overcome this situation, several provinces such as Shandong, Hubei and Anhui, have experimented on hiring contracted firefighters.
However, these firefighters, most of whom renew their contracts every two years, are not well compensated. Most of them quit their jobs within a few years and failed to become career firefighters like they were supposed to.
In 2001, Qingdao became the first city in Shandong to hire contracted firefighters under a pilot program. By the end of 2003, a total of 4,444 contracted firefighters had been employed in Shandong. However, only 2,414, equivalent to 46 percent, of these firefighters were still working at their jobs by the end of 2011.
Ma Xianhong, the fire chief of Shandong, said that the high turnover of these contracted firefighters, which can be attributed to the high risks involved in the job and the relatively low pay and benefits, has hampered the overall efficiency of the fire service. Ma said that many cities don't allow contracted firefighters over 28 years old, which results in their early retirement.
Several provinces have started to institute regulations to extend the contract term for contracted firefighters and significantly raise their income.
A new management method on contracted firefighters was issued in Shandong at the end of last year. It stipulates that the contracted firefighters can choose to sign an indefinite employment contract with the firehouse after signing two successive 10-year contracts.
"This means that firefighting can be a lifelong career for those willing to do the job," said Ma.
Similarly, Jiangxi Province issued a regulation on contracted firefighters in February, which says that they are entitled to a hardship subsidy and personal accident insurance, which has already covered all firefighting professionals under military service. The regulation also suggests a three-year term for their first contract and a five-year term for the second contract.
Observers suggested that China should establish a certification system for fire service employees such as firefighters, fire officers, fire instructors and public fire educators so that only qualified personnel can fill these positions, their hard-earned experience can be recognized and they can obtain benefits that match their skills and competence.
The observers believe that such a system will help the large number of armed police soldiers in the fire service to climb the career ladder and become professional firefighters.
The certification of fire service professionals is still being implemented, with the national professional standards of construction firefighters only being issued in 2008. These standards have been used by certification centers established in provinces and municipalities since then. The standards divide construction firefighters into junior firefighters, intermediate firefighters, senior firefighters, firefighting engineers and senior firefighting engineers.
Jin, the fire chief of Yuncheng, said that the government should overhaul the management of the fire service employees by learning the experience from aboard in designing positions, providing pay and benefits, offering training programs and providing an upward career channel.
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