Amid criticisms on the logic behind arming firefighters, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) explained that the move will expand the role of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) during emergency and critical situations.
“Aside from fire protection services, the BFP will also respond to natural and man-made disasters, perform rescue operations, provide emergency medical services and handle the containment of hazardous materials, just like the fire services of other countries,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo Año.
Año noted that the new law “will bring the BFP into the 21st Century since it will significantly improve the country’s fire prevention, rescue and emergency medical services through its expanded role and the acquisition of modern equipment, facilities and capacity enhancement of all fire personnel.”
“There are now more reasons to celebrate as this will allow the bureau to fully modernize its fire-fighting tools and lifesaving-equipment and professionalize the fire personnel and fire services,” he said.
Among the proposed modern firefighting equipment to be acquired are fire boats for low-lying and coastal areas, helicopters for emergencies that cannot be reached by land vehicles; rescue and hazard material trucks, and other emergency vehicles and equipment.
The procurement will be done together with the mandated training and hiring of additional BFP personnel and construction of more fire stations nationwide.
At present, the BFP has 30,811 personnel which is only 55.74 percent of the country’s requirement of 55,270 fire officers to serve the 110-million projected population this 2021.
The ideal firefighter to population ratio is 1:2,000 and one fire truck needs 14 fire officers for its full operation at times to respond to emergencies and even Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) threats.
The BFP only has 3,046 out of the needed 3,947 fire trucks, and 1,194 of these are over 20 years old.
DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya also defended the provision in the BFP Modernization Act which will create a Security and Protection Unit (SPU) in each regional and city Fire Station.
“Only 14 fire officers for every BFP regional office and city fire station will be authorized to carry a firearm as members of the security and protection unit. There will be no such unit in the municipal fire stations. Since there are 17 fire regional offices and 146 city fire stations, this means only 2,282 fire officers or 7.9 percent of the 32,800-strong BFP will carry firearms,” Malaya said.
He explained that this is not the first time that some BFP officers will be armed.
“When the fire services was still part of the Integrated National Police, all fire officers carried firearms. It was only when the BFP was created under the DILG that they no longer were issued firearms,” he added.
The DILG spokesperson said that the fire officers will be armed with pistols for them to be able to maintain peace and order during fire incidents and for self-defense purposes as fire victims, out of frustration, sometimes gang up on fire personnel during firefighting operations.
He added that firefighters would undergo marksmanship and gun safety training before the issuance of their firearms.
“We must remember that the BFP also does law enforcement functions because they enforce the Fire Code so they already have some experience in this regard. The BFP can help ensure public safety and peace and order, as a support to the PNP, but of course their primary responsibility is still fire and rescue that is why only 2,282 of them will be armed,” Malaya said.
Under the BFP Modernization Act, every SPU shall be composed of not more than 14 personnel composed of two team leaders with the rank of at least Fire Inspector and team members, who shall undergo a neuropsychological examination and periodic training.
Malaya disclosed that fire officers are capable of handling such situations given their training so a special unit to ensure their safety and protection is an essential part of enhancing the capabilities of the modernized BFP. (Chito A. Chavez)