The top officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) are gla–morized in the media every March, which is Fire Prevention Month. But the ordinary fireman is invested with none of this glamor. Starvation wages and the lack of adequate firefighting equipment make the life of a low-ranking firefighter a nightmare. The klieg lights flooding the BFP news conferences are a far cry from the blazing flames that the ill-equipped fireman have to face.
These men put their lives in danger just to save their fellow–men, but despite great risks,they receive little attention from the government.
For instance, firemen receive only P12 daily hazard pay and their food (subsistence) allowance is only P90 a day.
Furthermore, Senior Fire Officer (SFO4) Enrico Navarro, deputy finance officer and fire safety inspection head of the Makati Central Fire, revealed that despite the nature of their job, they are not automatically insured by the government.
“We have individual insurance, it’s optional because it is not being shouldered by the government,” Navarro told The Manila Times.
But in terms of compensation, he believed firemen are being paid ‘well’ nowadays as compared to previous years when they only receive a basic pay of P1,000 a month.
Aside from hazard and subsistence allowances, firemen also receive longevity pay, personal economic relief, quarter, and clothing allowances.
This, he added, is the reason why the profession attracts more applicants in spite of the hazards of the job.
“We have so many applicants today and it is so hard to become a fireman unlike before,” Navarro added.
Navarro said once applicants are qualified for the position, they will undergo an extensive training at the Fire National Training Institute (FNTI) at Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba, Laguna for six months.
“They also have off-campus on-the-job training wherein they will be assigned in different areas. In case there will be fire in their area, they will be dispatched to experience the actual firefighting,” he added.
For FO1, which is the entry level for firemen, Navarro said applicants must be a Bachelor’s Degree holder, not less than 21 years old.
Applicants also undergo a neuro-psychiatric evaluation, medical examination and a drug test.
Sr. Insp. Pedro Espinosa, de–puty director for Operations of the Makati Central Fire Depart–ment, said despite the danger of their job, many are still willing to join the team.
Those who were assigned to his office were given heat-proof protective suits and gears.
Espinosa, who has logged 20 years in service, said they still enjoy ample time with their family although they are on call 24/7 and have one-day duty, one-day off policy.
However, many still consider their measly salary considering that they are required to be away from their families for days.
“This is really happening in far-flung places or provinces, because our firemen there are sometimes on duty for a week and off for a week when they live far from their workplace,” Sr. Insp. Romeo Pepito, BFP Public Information Service chief told The Manila Times.
“It’s really hard for them because working three days straight, they have already covered nine days’ duty as work lasts only eight straight hours [a day has three eight-hour shifts]. Imagine, working seven days straight would cover almost two weeks tour of duty. This is on top of home–ß∑sickness,” Pepito explained.
Firemen, he said, are paid according to their rank. A Fire Officer 1 gets less than P20,000 in salary and allowances while those with higher ranks receive salaries equivalent to what is paid to junior executives of big companies.
“In the metropolis, most firefighters particularly those assigned at a fire station take a one-day duty and one-day off. Even in that set-up its hard for them to focus on other things in their life, their family, kids education etc.,” he farther explained.
A fire fighter in Quezon City who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity said he has four children to feed.
With a rank of FO1, he has to provide three meals a day, pay utility bills and rent and send the four kids to schools.
“Thought they go to public high and elementary schools I am hard-pressed to give their daily allowance. How about the house rent, water and electric bills even if your wife is working or has a small business your headaches will not go away. Especially if you have to pay for a loan you made,” the fireman quipped.
“But why do we see some of our colleagues living as informal settlers? Now you know the reasons,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, the BFP needs to have 3,000 fire trucks to respond to any fire incident across the country. But to date it has only 1,700 functioning fire trucks.
During the kick off of Fire Prevention Month last week, the BFP distributed some 26 Austrian-made Rosenbauer Fire Trucks to cities as far as Tuguegarao, Santiago in Isabela, Cagayan de Oro, Koronadal, Lamitan, Marawi Butuan and Legaspi among others.
The acquisition reportedly was a spillover of the initiative of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo to acquire more fire trucks during his time.
The Rosenbauer TLF 4000 fire trucks were part of the 76 units that the government has procured through a soft loan package of about P1.1 billion. The loan taken to buy them is payable in 17 and a half years with an interest rate of one percent per year.
The fire trucks were built to respond to fires in highly urbanized areas. Each fire truck has four doors, has a seating capacity of seven passengers and is equipped with ladders that could reach up to the top of an eight-story building.
These are 1,000-gallon water pumper fire trucks capable of discharging 2,400 liters of water per minute. Powerful water cannons are mounted on the trucks equipped with two quick response hoses and two regular hoses.
They have a total of five firefighting weapons that can be used simultaneously for faster and better fire control action and can be pulled out easily.
In the same kick-off ceremony, incumbent Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd said President Aquino has approved the release of P10 billion for the procurement of police and fire protection equipment.
Of the P10 billion, Roxas said, P3.4 billion will be allocated for the procurement of 300 fire trucks to be distributed to localities without firefighting equipment.
The funds will also cover the construction of 300 fire stations to ensure that the fire trucks will be properly maintained.
He vowed that proper pro–cedures will be observed in the procurement of the fire trucks.
“The fire trucks which are already in the pipeline should conform to the needs of the places where it will be given,” Sr. Insp. Romeo Pepito, BFP Public Information Services (PIS) chief told The Manila Times.
The Rosenbauer Fire Trucks, Pepito added, are “special trucks” that can response to fire incidents in high-rise buildings.
“They [Austrian-made firetrucks] were distributed in places meeting the criteria such as numbers of fire incidents, population and progress in the area,” Pepito said, adding rural areas have a different criteria and needs.
“The idea is to have a fire truck for every 28,000 population,” he added.