Fellow Koreans, the 150,000 career firefighters across the country and volunteer firefighters,
Today marks the first Fire Service Day since all career firefighters have been reclassified as civil servants under the central Government. It is especially meaningful to hold this ceremony here at the National Fire Service Academy that symbolizes the spirit of the fire service: honor, trust and dedication. I wholeheartedly congratulate you on the 58th Fire Service Day.
In 2017, the Central Fire Service was upgraded and renamed the National Fire Agency and given overall responsibility for responding to disasters on land. Now that all firefighters have been placed under the central Government, they can respond with all the force needed to a disaster anywhere – regardless of jurisdiction. The people have entrusted firefighters with this mission out of outstanding support and affection.
I am deeply grateful to our 150,000 career firefighters who are fulfilling your duties to the best of your abilities even at this very moment and the 100,000 local volunteer firefighters who are serving to safeguard your neighbors. I hope that you will reciprocate the public’s support and affection by helping to make this the world’s safest country.
This summer, Fire Lieutenant Kim Guk-hwan lost his life while carrying out a rescue mission in Jirisan Mountain’s Piagol Valley, and Fire Engineer Song Seong-han died in the line of duty when rapids swept him away. They and other firefighters are heroes who guarded the people’s lives and safety on behalf of the nation. Lee Yeong-wook, Lee Ho-hyeon, Shim Mun-gyu, Oh Dong-jin, Lee Jeong-ryeol, Kang Yeon-hee, Kim Shin-hyeong, Kim Eun-yeong, Moon Sae-mi, Chung Hee-guk, Kim Jong-pil, Lee Jong-hu, Seo Jeong-yong, Bae Hyeok, Park Dan-bi, Kwon Tae-won, Seok Won-ho and Kwon Yeong-dal – we once again remember the noble sacrifice and dedication of these and other firefighting heroes who perished in the line of duty.
I extend my deepest sympathy to those bereaved families who lost beloved relatives and those firefighters who harbor in their hearts the deaths of their colleagues.
Everyone becomes desperate when facing a disaster. At such perilous moments, perhaps no one delivers a sense of relief more than firefighters who risk their lives to answer urgent cries for help. When a large fire broke out in a high-rise apartment building in Ulsan last October, firefighters rescued a family of three by carrying them all the way from the 33rd floor on their backs. That family later told the firefighters that they had appeared to them like helmeted rescuer. This year alone, our firefighters were dispatched on 730,000 rescue missions and protected 70,000 citizens. Over three million people received emergency care from paramedics, and more than 1.3 million were taken to hospitals in ambulances.
Firefighters have also played a great role in the battle to overcome COVID-19. With public safety as their top priority, they have expanded their scope of duties and worked throughout the country.
They have established a response system that brings them to the side of those in need anywhere at any hour. Firefighters across the country voluntarily rushed to Daegu in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak once many confirmed
cases were reported there.
They also fulfilled their missions at Incheon International Airport – where special entry procedures were carried out – as well as at temporary residential facilities and residential treatment centers for Koreans returning home from overseas. It is truly remarkable that their impeccable epidemic control measures kept them from being infected during the process of transporting 16,000 confirmed and 80,000 suspected COVID-19 cases. I wholeheartedly commend you.
The active service of volunteer firefighters has never paled in comparison. With full force, they have supported the firefighters’ efforts by inspecting ambulances and distributing food. On top of this, in the early days when face masks were being rationed and sold at pharmacies, they did all they could to prevent confusion by assisting with mask production and distribution. Career and volunteer firefighters have not only protected the lives and safety of the people but also provided courage and a sense of hope that COVID-19 could be overcome without fail. I extend my profound appreciation to all the career and volunteer firefighters at the forefront of Korea’s response to COVID-19 who have played as remarkable of a role as our epidemic prevention and control personnel.
Our firefighters and paramedics carry out their respective duties determined “to succeed where no one else can.” Danger always arises from a brief moment of negligence. The Government is doing everything it can to devise systematic safety measures.
We established a pan-government special fire safety task force in 2018 as part of our efforts to improve the current system.
The biggest changes comprise a new law and directives in their manual that allow firefighters to be deployed from the nearest location regardless of jurisdiction and assembled from all over the country in the event of a major disaster.
Through systematic cooperation with specialized organizations, we have strengthened public safety further. A disaster response coordination system was established with the Ministry of National Defense and the Korean National Police Agency, and similar systems are in place with private and public entities, including Seoul National University Hospital and local governments.
Firefighters responding to a scene have only one thought: “A life that can be saved must be saved under any circumstances.”
The Government is strengthening support for our dedicated firefighters. We will lay a foundation for protecting more lives by increasing the number of personnel deployed on the ground and operating special rescue units.
We have recruited 12,000 additional firefighters to make up for insufficient numbers on the frontlines and will add more by 2022 to keep our promise to hire a total of 20,000.
To provide patients with proper emergency medical services, paramedics have long hoped to make it possible for three of them to board 119 ambulances and expand the scope of their work. In 2016, only 31.7 percent of 119 ambulances were dispatched with three paramedics. The Government has now increased that rate to 82.8 percent.
The special rescue units mentioned earlier have been in operation on a trial basis since July last year, and we will overhaul relevant acts and regulations after the final review at the end of this year to enable expanded treatment for emergency care.
The safety of firefighters equals the safety of people. To improve firefighting equipment and provide more personal safety gear, the Government revised the firefighting safety subsidy tax ordinance so that firefighters could better equip themselves.
Next year’s budget for the National Fire Agency has been raised to a record 220 billion won. A comprehensive disaster response system, including the integrated management of firefighting helicopters, will be established, and special equipment will be employed for areas where firefighting is difficult. The overarching goal is to protect the safety of our people and firefighters at the same time.
The establishment of a firefighters’ hospital is underway as planned to protect the safety and health of firefighters.
We pledge that the country will do its utmost to continue to safeguard firefighters’ safety and health.
Fellow Koreans and firefighters,
The people have always had faith in firefighters who run into infernos – going back 60 years when they used a pump installed on a secondhand military truck to sprinkle water and even had to share helmets. Even now, firefighters are trusted more than any other security-related professionals.
The way to repay that trust is to ensure safety. I ask you to do all you can to devise meticulous safety measures for those who are vulnerable to disasters and come up with fundamental fire countermeasures for construction sites and warehouses.
Systematic and efficient actions are also important to fundamentally prevent accidents and minimize damage from disasters. It is an opportune time to expand the range of 119 safety alerts by utilizing the National Fire Agency’s tens of millions of big data elements.
AI, IoT, robot and drone technologies should be applied to firefighting, and we must strengthen the capabilities of the National Fire Research Institute of Korea, established last year. In this way, I ask you to build a foundation for state-of-the-art scientific firefighting to brace for future disasters.
Last spring, a banner that read, “I will become a great person like a firefighter,” was hung in Daegu, expressing a child’s wish.
In fact, many have become firefighters after receiving aid from other firefighters or following in the footsteps of their siblings or parents.
A resolve to safeguard families and neighbors helps our children grow to become more righteous and is ushering in a safe future for our society.
Institutions to train public servants are usually named human resource development centers, but the National Fire Service Academy is so named because it is the cradle of the fire service spirit – where you learn and share your humanism.
Lastly, as President, I order all firefighters: Do your best to save lives, but make sure that you come back alive yourselves.
Congratulations once more on Fire Service Day. I wish a safe country for all – the people and firefighters.