by Susanne Kemp
Firefighters across New Zealand and around the world are marking International Firefighters’ Day today, May 4.
As the IFFD home page notes, “Firefighters dedicate their lives to the protection of life and property. Sometimes that dedication is in the form of countless hours volunteered over many years, in others it is many selfless years working in the industry. In all cases it risks the ultimate sacrifice of a firefighter’s life.”
In Third World countries, firefighting is an especially hazardous job due to widespread very poor health and safety conditions in factories, sweatshops and other workplaces and the under-spending on public services such as firefighting.
For instance, in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Dhaka, Bangla Desh, in 2012, at least 117 died while 200 were injured. At the Kader Toy Factory fire in Thailand in 1993, despite the desperate efforts of firefighters, somewhere between 190-210 workers, mainly young women from rural areas, were killed and over 500 were injured. The workers were locked inside the factory and firefighting crews were delayed by traffic jams in the area. (This fire is the subject of Don McGlashan’s powerful ‘Toy Factory Fire’ song on his first solo album.)
While we should think about the dangers faced by firefighters in NZ, we should never lose sight of the additional horros facing firefighters in countries like Thailand and Bangla Desh, including the horror of not being able to save people in fires like the above two.
International Firefighters Day itself came into existence in 1999, when a proposal was emailed out to fireifghters across the world, following the deaths of five comrades trying to contain and put out a massive bushfire across the ditch in the Australian state of Victoria.
In New Zealand, the people who do this work show their humane values not only by fighting fires but also in their solidarity with other workers. Firefighters have been on the picket lines in significant numbers supporting the Ports of Auckland workers under attack a few years ago and supporting hospital workers in Auckand in 2016.
At Redline, we have been proud to run substantial coverage of firefighter issues and struggles across New Zealand and the Victorian firefighters stoush with a state government there which was determined to undermine their conditions and weaken their union. We have also had some coverage of British firefighter issues, including a major interview with a London organiser of the Fire Brigades Union.
For our coverage click on the links below: