Armed for firefighting
To put out a blaze, the most basic requirement is strong water. Professional firefighters need a hose for accurate aiming of the water, a fire truck for speedy response, and fire-resistant apparel. A ladder and an ax or other tools for breaking into a fire-engulfed room may be needed. Chemical fires are trickier and need special equipment.
In the Philippines, the government believes firefighters need another equipment: guns. Republic Act 11589, the Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Act, was signed by President Duterte on Sept. 10. BFP modernization includes arming firefighters.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, whose department has supervision over the BFP, previously said 29,286 firefighters would be issued 9mm handguns. Año said this was in line with the President’s desire to allow BFP members to assist the military and police in maintaining peace and order.
On the other hand, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who was accused by his Senate colleagues of inserting the gun ownership provision during the bicameral conference for the ratification of the law, said only an initial 2,282 of over 30,000 regular BFP members would be issued handguns. He said this was mainly to protect firefighting units, because they are often threatened by affected residents in the course of their work.
Other sectors are concerned that arming firefighters would open the doors wider for abuse of state power. During the pandemic alone, there have been several reports of police officers shooting civilians dead over minor altercations, as well as at COVID checkpoints and during a raid on a cockfighting site. There have also been complaints over the years about firemen looting burning houses, and threatening volunteer firefighters from the private sector.
The move is also raising questions about the priorities of the administration during a raging health crisis. Dela Rosa said the guns would cost about P80 million and the procurement would not be prioritized over public healthcare requirements amid the COVID pandemic. Whether this is true remains to be seen.
Healthcare workers are resigning due to low salaries and lack of hazard pay. Hospitals, which are complaining about the interminable wait for reimbursements from the government, are running out of not only COVID-dedicated beds but also HCWs. With the Delta-driven COVID surge, the public healthcare system is in the intensive care unit. Surely there are more urgent needs in this unprecedented crisis than arming firefighters.