Recently, a firefighter who was riding in an ambulance, was hit by the patient and died because of a brain hemorrhage. Because these incidents were introduced to the public on TV, people have raised their voices for improving treatment of firefighters.
Korean firefighters’ working conditions are already dangerous but the dangers increase from lack of funding. Often, fire crews don’t have enough members. Equipment is old and isn’t replaced when broken, leaving firefighters underequipped and undermanned. In addition, people don’t respect them.
First, according to the Fire Department, their monthly government salary is 2.5 to 3 million won, including overtime and risk allowances. Second, about 340 of the 35,000 firefighters die annually according to the National Emergency Management Agency. Also, firefighters commit suicide at six times the rate of the general population in 2015. Finally, through ‘Joongang Newspaper’, you can know that their average life expectancy is 67 years, 14 years shorter than average.
In SBS Special ‘SOS from firefighters’, public attitudes toward firefighters in the United States and Korea are clearly different. In the United States, the health and safety of firefighters is of utmost importance. In the U.S., firefighters have easy access to mental health treatment to deal with routine traumatic stress from doing their job. Since firefighters’ suicide rate is relatively higher than other government employees, firefighters’ suicide prevention programs are organized in various American states. All firefighters carry special breathing apparatus including carbon monoxide sensing sensors prevent them from being exposed to dangerous substances.
The story also highlighted differences in social status. When a U.S firefighter dies on the job, the entire department, and local media honor their death, and flags are flown at half-mast. By contrast, Korean fire fighters face verbal abuse and violence from citizens. While there is a need for improvement in the system of firefighters, our attitude toward the firefighters should also be changed like the developed countries.