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November 20, 2015

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Fire service holds recruitment fair in drive to boost professionalism

THE Shanghai Fire Brigade yesterday launched its latest campaign to become more professional by staging a major recruitment drive.

A total of 700 positions — 530 for firefighters and the rest for fire truck drivers — are now available, Shanghai Daily learned from a local job fair organized by the fire department on Changxing Island yesterday afternoon. And already 30 applications have come in.

Unlike many other countries, most firefighters in China are recruited through a military-style compulsory service.

After serving two years in the fire department, the experienced firefighters have to retire from their positions, to be replaced by freshmen. This naturally leads to poor development with regards to professional skills.

But in the face of demand for more professional service, Shanghai plans to gradually have in place teams that mostly consist of professional firefighters.

The city has 1,100 full-time professional firefighters and another 1,000 professionals working in logistics positions; there are about 4,500 soldier-firefighters and 2,500 active soldiers working in logistics positions.

According to Tang Shujiang, head of the Shanghai Professional Firemen Management Office, the city’s professional firemen will total 5,000 by 2020, which will outnumber those in military service.

“We have 128 fire brigades and plan to increase the number by 30 to 50 by 2020,” Tang said, adding that the professional firemen are scattered over 40 brigades along with soldier-firefighters. “In future these teams will solely comprise of contracted firemen. Professionalizing the team is the trend.”

In Shanghai, a professional firefighter’s monthly salary reaches about 5,600 yuan (US$880) before tax, while fire truck drivers can earn 5,200 yuan on average.

“I think it’s a noble job, as you protect and save people’s lives. It’s also attractive financially, as it’s stable and offers a decent pay,” said Zhu Jiaxian, 26, a local Changxing applicant who was at the job fair.

Zhu worked as a firefighter while undergoing military service in east China’s Anhui Province from 2007 to 2009, after which he gained promotion and served for another three years.

Another attraction in the job for Zhu is that professional firefighters work in shifts and can go home every week. “It’s impossible when serving in the military, so my family also supports me in opting for this as a career.”

After interviews and physical tests, the recruited professional firemen will have undergo six months of training before being sent to fight a real blaze.

Tang revealed that compared to age or physical stamina, experience plays the most important role in firefighting, which is why the professional recruitment system may also help to reduce risks to firefighters.

Zhu concurred. “Experienced firefighters can evaluate the danger during a fire, particularly when in factories where most of the structures are made of metal that melt under high temperature,” he said.

Since a trial of the professional firemen system was launched in 2004, the city has recruited about 4,100 people though only 2,100 are still in the service.

To attract more people, the city has raised professional firefighters’ salary to nearly 70,000 yuan a year from 59,000 yuan at the beginning of this year.

Members of the professional team are also now contracted with the fire department rather than working as dispatched employees as before.

“This year the recruitment turnover rate was only about 10 percent,” Tang said, adding that many left after being put under family pressure following the explosions in Tianjin City in August, which killed 173 people, 95 of them firefighters.


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