Firefighters protest for their rights

Thursday, 20 January 2022 – Marking the fifth anniversary of the horrific Plasco Building fire, which took the lives of sixteen of the firefighters who went to tackle the blaze in extremely hazardous conditions, and which saw the collapse of the entire complex, Tehran firefighters gathered in front of the city’s municipality offices to protest officialdom’s complete failure and neglect to address their grievances and demands.   

Firefighters, who work under very difficult conditions often with inadequate equipment as well as against the backdrop of government indifference towards the neglect of fire safety rules, are openly pressing for legitimate rights and benefits that would be considered basic in other countries.

More than one hundred firefighters, many with their families in tow, attended the peaceful rally and publicly restated their demands for there to be accountability and proper recognition of the conditions under which they work.

The firefighters made clear their main issues, including, but not limited to, the requests that their job be formally acknowledged as a “hard and dangerous [hazardous] occupation” and formally listed as such; that, accordingly, their wages be reviewed and increased schematically; that a review of training and promotion procedures be carried out within the fire service; and that affordable and suitable housing be allocated for members of their profession.

At their rally, the Tehran firefighters carried banners with slogans referencing discrimination, mismanagement, exploitation, and a toxic work culture.  Banners were visible that read: “Recognition of our jobs as hazardous and difficult is our right – our inalienable right!”, “A decent livelihood is our inalienable right!”, and “We are tired of promises and lies, but not fire and smoke!”

The Plasco Building was built in 1962, during a decade of rapid growth in Iran.  At the time of its construction, it was the tallest building in Iran and considered an iconic landmark on the Tehran skyline.

After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the building was handed over to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

At the time of the fire, the Plasco Building was being dually used as a residential and commercial complex, with a major shopping centre situated on its ground floor, a restaurant on its upper floor, as well as several clothing workshops throughout.

At around 07:30 local time on 19 January 2017, a fire began on the building’s ninth floor and quickly spread.  Passageways and stairwells were apparently blocked with accumulated workshop produce, despite previous repeated requests by the fire safety inspectorate that these be cleared, contributing to the blaze rapidly taking hold.  The traumatic scenes of the poorly equipped, under-resourced, but nonetheless courageous firefighters rushing in to tackle the inferno while most people made their way in the opposite direction, will stay with all those present that day – firefighter and witness alike.

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