Firefighters In The Spotlight After Valparaiso Blaze

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29 Apr 2014
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01 May 2014

This month's devastating fire in the Chilean city of Valparaiso not only killed 15 people and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes, it also ignited a debate over the future of the country's fire service, which has a long, proud tradition of voluntary service.

There are around 40,000 firefighters in Chile and they all work for free. The only people in the service who are paid are the drivers, messengers and secretaries who work in the fire stations.

When a fire breaks out, when there is a car crash or when an earthquake strikes, volunteers leave their day jobs as lawyers, shopkeepers and bankers and head to their stations to help out. Many work night shifts and weekends for free.

Indeed, Chilean firefighters have to pay to be part of the force. They all make monthly contributions to their stations.