In the spring of 2019, South Korea suffered from many fire incidents. Firefighters are always trying their best during fires.
ST writes about firefighters.........................................................................................................................................................................................................Ed
The fire that began from Goseong, Gangwon-do spread to the downtown of Sokcho and Donghae, and the central government
declared a state of disaster last April 4. Fire authorities sent 25 helicopters, 94 fire trucks, 33 extinguishing cars, and 4,308 rescue
parties to the scene. Firefighters threaded through the frontline to ensure the safety of the people. Their hard work, while drenched in
sweat under very poor conditions to the point of sacrificing their lives, was highly appreciated. However, on the other side was the
reality of adversity in all aspects, including personnel shortage, meager allowances, and insufficient equipment. After this tragedy,
the need for better treatment of firefighters came to the fore aagin.
Currently, fire officials are less than two-thirds of the total population of 66,000 people. The figure is always
at the bottom of the list, meaning there is far less fire personnel than other major OECD countries. Furthermore,
one Korean firefighter takes charge of 1,210 people, the highest among OECD members. Also, excess
allowances to be paid to fire officials nationwide amount to 190.2 billion won. However, most firefighters work
without due pay. Less than 60 percent of the normal protective gear and fire suits are used when fighting fires. Personal protective equipment
look aged, so they must be inherited or purchased at personal cost.
Amid this situation, President Moon Jae-in pledged the Fireman’s National Position Switch. At the moment, fire officials are divided into
“National Position” and “Local Position.” The “Local Position” means that local governments are managing firefighters after drawing up
a budget. The problem with this is that budget is dependent on the financial status of the local governments. Moreover, firemen’s budgets
and the way they are treated also vary. The “National Position” should be implemented for the safety of the people as well as to enhance the
working environment and the central control of firefighters. However, the bill has yet to be passed by the National Assembly.
Unlike in South Korea, firefighters are recognized as heroes in the United States. Thus, there are distinguishable differences in
treating firefighters between Korea and US. First, there is a huge difference in annual salaries. The average annual salary of a firefighter
in the United States is $73,000, while a fire brigade chief gets as much as $121,000. However, Korean firefighters’ monthly salary is
1,299,900 won, based on grade nine firefighters. On top of that, they will receive an additional 130,000 won, including 50,000 won in
risk allowance and 80,000 won in fire suppression allowance. Then, there is the difference in work hours in South Korea and the United
States. United States firefighters work 48 hours a week, which is no comparison to Korea. After a day’s work, rest will be given for more
than two days. For this reason, it is not only considered a popular job with high job satisfaction, but also guaranteed as a high quality of
life. However, firefighters in South Korea have just changed from two previous shifts of three groups to one shift of three groups since
this May. To be specific, it is a change from working one day and taking a day off to working one day and taking two days off.
If firefighters depart from existing local jobs to national positions, they will find it easier to solve problems, such as old firefighting facilities and equipment, and small budget problems. Moreover, the entire nation can receive the same fire-related services, ensuring the safety of the people. “If the government does not actively support firefighters in our country, people will be discriminated against in terms
of safety,” said Lee Dong-myung, a professor of fire safety management at Kyungmin University. This improved
treatment of firefighters is not only for firefighters, but also for the nation in the long term. Above all, citizens’
awareness about firefighters must be raised. We should refrain from doing non-emergency calls, prank calls, and
false reports, stop making abusive remarks against firefighters, and practice giving way to fire trucks.
Jung Yeon-wook(Web Editor)
Lee Ju-a (ST Cub-Reporter)