Taoyuan mayor promises transparency after deadly fire

Taoyuan mayor promises transparency after deadly fire
Firefighters check the site at a bowling venue in northern Taoyuan on January 20, 2015.

TAIPEI - Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan yesterday promised to release all information relevant to the fire that killed six firefighters on Monday.

Cheng said the bowling alley in the city's Xinwu District, where the fire took place, had kept expanding into a "large illegal structure" over the past 20 years despite multiple inspections by the authorities, reports of wrongdoings and demolitions. It was not a mistake of a single public servant but of the entire Taoyuan government.

"How can a large illegal structure keep operating for 20 years until this day?" he questioned.

Cheng said he would make public all relevant information and ask Deputy Mayor Chiu Tai-san o set up an investigation task force.

Cheng led senior Taoyuan officials in a silent tribute to those who sacrificed their lives on Jan. 20, saying that new firefighters in the future should have six additional months of training before deployment. He also said that firefighter commanders should enhance their search and rescue techniques.

In response to questions over the lack of experience and training of the firefighters killed, Cheng pointed out that students at the Taiwan Police College, which also trains the nation's firefighters, should undergo special training classes lasting for at least six months before being allowed on active duty.

This would allow them to become familiar with their teams before facing the dangers of the job, he said. He also called for junior firefighters and experienced firefighters to be assigned to the same brigades.

Cheng gave an order that the Taoyuan Department of Public Works should tear down large structures that pose a danger to public safety. The government will allocate an extra NT$30 million (S$1.271 million) for the removal of the said structures, which should be conducted immediately and without influence peddling

The National Fire Agency held a conference at 8 p.m. on Jan. 20, reviewing the cause of the tragedy and the arrangement of firefighters and equipment. Responding to suspicions of the public, the Fire Agency announced that the rescue commander was not to blame for the firefighters' deaths.

An audio recording made available yesterday revealed that the commander had asked the firefighters to retreat from the scene.

In related news, the Taoyuan District Prosecutors Office (decided to perform autopsies on the six deceased firefighters to determine if the burns on their bodies were inflicted posthumously.

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