Better treatment of fire brigade crews urged to boost disaster readiness

JIJI

Concerned about a decline in disaster preparedness, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency will urge fire brigades nationwide to pay members what they are due to fortify their ranks, it has been learned.

The agency will conduct a survey on compensation among the volunteer firefighters and announce the names of brigades that don’t pay their members, to prevent their ranks from declining further, sources said.

When the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck, fire brigade members played a key role in guiding evacuees and rescuing victims. But their numbers have been falling steadily along with the rise in average age.

The agency believes it must reinforce measures to attract more members amid recent studies warning about other impending disasters, such as the Tokyo and Nankai Trough earthquake scenarios.

The pay of fire brigade members is governed by local ordinances. The central government allocates grants to local governments on the assumption that each member is receiving ¥36,500 in compensation each year. In reality, the average payment received is just ¥25,064.

As of April 1 last year, about 30 local governments had paid their fire brigade crews nothing.

A new law was enacted in December to oblige the central and local governments to improve working conditions for the brigades. This prompted the agency to ask prefectural governments to encourage municipalities to attract new members and improve their treatment.

It called on local governments to ensure that compensation is paid without fail and that pay is increased where possible.

Later this month, it will check on whether its request has been met and urge the lagging governments to make further efforts.

The agency, affiliated with the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, will then announce the names of municipalities that had paid nothing as of April 1. The minister will then present letters of appreciation to municipalities that have boosted their ranks by 10 percent or more.