Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Fire Department to report residents for attack

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The City Fire Department will report the residents of Karet Tengsin subdistrict, Central Jakarta, to the police for attacking firemen and vandalizing their equipment when they tried to extinguish a fire in the area.

Head of the City Fire Department Johnny Pangaribuan said on Wednesday that a fireman suffered serious wounds on his face and head in the attack. The crowd also damaged a fire truck, a motorcycle and a fire extinguisher belonging to the department.

"We can't condone such an attack on our men, who worked really hard to extinguish the fire," Johnny said.

The attack began when residents became dissatisfied with the firemen's efforts in extinguishing a fire in Karet Tengsin on Saturday. They began to attack the firemen and vandalize their equipment as the fire razed 275 houses, making 1,318 people homeless.

Firemen fought the blaze for about nine hours, from 9 p.m. on Saturday evening to 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Johnny said the firemen faced great difficulties extinguishing the fire due to limited access to the densely populated area.

The attack was not the first against the fire department, with a similar incident occurring in Manggarai, South Jakarta, early this year. An angry crowd pushed a fire truck into the raging fire, but firemen managed to save the vehicle.

Although fires constantly break out in the capital, with 500 fires in the first half of 2003 alone, the City Fire Department continues to face serious impediments to its fire fighting capabilities -- the most recent was a 14 percent budget cut approved by the City Council on Monday, from Rp 211.51 billion to Rp 184.33 billion.

Johnny said most of the 2,520 firemen were not in ideal condition, as 61 percent of them were over 45 years of age.

The ideal age for firemen, he said, should be under 30 years. He also said that the department had proposed to recruit some 1,500 young firemen this year.

"Our proposal is being discussed with the City Personnel Bureau. We hope the proposal will be approved, so as to enable us to improve our performance," he said.

However, the new firemen would not become permanent workers of the city administration, as it would violate the zero growth policy for administration employees. Their working contract will be extended every year, depending on their performance.