Saturday, April 11, 2015

Most of Taipei firefighers’ suits said to be ‘expired’

Most of Taipei firefighers’ suits said to be ‘expired’

‘NEVER BEEN INSPECTED’::National Association for Firefighters’ Rights secretary-general Cheng Ya-ling said that the majority of protective clothing has not been tested

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Apr 11, 2015 - Page 3

Seventy percent of the fire suits worn by Taipei firefighters are “expired” and potentially worn out, putting their lives at risk, city councilors said yesterday.
Taipei City councilors Wang Wei-chung (王威中) and Kao Chia-yu (高嘉瑜) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said that an inventory list provided by the Taipei Fire Department showed only 349 suits for the department’s 1,243 firefighters. While the department claimed that any additional suits had been “scrapped,” interviews with firefighters revealed that close to 1,000 expired suits with more than three years of usage continued to be worn by city firefighters, the councilors said.
National Association for Firefighters’ Rights secretary-general Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱) said the continued use of older suits was worrisome because there was no system in place for testing suit safety, with firefighters instead required to report any problems themselves.
She said that important problems — such as the suits’ fabric becoming brittle — could not be reliably tested by firefighters themselves without specialized instruments.
In addition, firefighters often feel embarrassed to ask for a replacement suit if damage is not obvious, although even a small puncture greatly reduces suit safety, she said.
“Most firefighters’ suits and hats have never been inspected,” she said “They have no way of being certain that this equipment can protect them, with ‘testing’ only occurring during real emergencies.”
However, even if firefighters discover a problem, the department’s lack of backup suits and equipment means that they must wait up to eight months before receiving a new suit, she said.
The Taipei Fire Department’s disaster rescue division director Wang Cheng-hsiung (王證雄) said that the department had provided an “erroneous” inventory list due to a “misunderstanding.”
While the Executive Yuan has set a three-year standard for the replacement of fire suits, because the suits are permanently flameproof, the department has chosen to use many suits for more than three years due to budget constraints, he said, adding that new suits cost NT$23,000 each.
He said that half of the department’s suits received a manual safety check every year during their biannual washing, adding that the check only encompassed deformities visible to the naked eye, with no way of determining whether the suits’ material had become brittle.
He added the department had already decided to begin replacing the suits every three years to improve safety and to provide all firefighters with their own backup suit, beginning with a budget request for 400 new suits this year.

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