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Palace Museum firefighters safeguard country's past (2)

(China Daily)    09:44, September 27, 2018

Drills are staged frequently at the Palace Museum in Beijing, where a team is stationed by the east gate to keep watch for fire in turn 24 hours a day. JIANG DONG/WANG KAIHAO/CHINA DAILY

Tests are held every week. Firefighters have to run more than 50 meters within 13 seconds carrying three rolls of 20-meter-long standpipe hoses and connecting them.

Strict practice is essential to remaining vigilant.

Firefighters stationed in residential areas may be called out to fires every day. However, since the Tian'anmen Fire Squadron was set up in 1970, there have been no major fires within its 3.74-sq-km jurisdiction, which covers not only the Palace Museum but all of Tian'anmen Square.

In 1987, the Palace of Great Brilliance (Jingyanggong) at the museum was hit by lightning and caught fire. The blaze was quickly put out before any damage was caused to cultural relics, although a small part of the roof was charred.

After this, lightning conductors were installed on the roofs of all the buildings at the complex.

Du said: "Any fire at the Forbidden City, which is in the heart of Beijing, would have wider implications for the public than merely being just a cultural disaster. We have to take precautions against any latent danger."

Li Yang, 31, who has been with the squadron for 11 years, is in charge of the daily checks and rehearsals for emergencies.

He has walked through all the alleys in the Forbidden City to work out the best escape routes in the event of an emergency.

"Roads at this museum have various slopes, widths and are in different states of repair," Li said. "We are equipped with different vehicles to reach anywhere in the Forbidden City."

Li took an additional course compared with firefighters elsewhere to learn about cultural heritage and ancient architecture.

There are 8,728 "rooms"-any square space with four columns in it counts as one room in Chinese tradition-at the museum. Li had to learn about all of them.

"Different materials are used for the different palaces, which have their own construction techniques," he said. "And each hall houses different types of cultural relics."

He said water may not necessarily be best in fighting some blazes. For example, if some varieties of timber catch fire, foam will be used.

Asked how many fire hydrants there are in the Forbidden City, Du replied instantly, "167", adding, "I could not be more familiar with that number."

Each hydrant is checked four times a year to see if it is operating efficiently, as are the 3,000 extinguishers throughout the museum.

"And don't forget the 308 big copper water tanks," Du added.

The water tanks in the Forbidden City were used as "hydrants" in imperial times. Although the tanks in areas open to the public no longer hold water in case visitors fall in, those in the staff members' areas are still full.

"This will solve the problem of where to get the first bucket of water if a fire occurs," Du said.

Li said he had found many firewalls in the Forbidden City during his checks.

"These walls may look the same as others, but they are thicker," he said.

They can prevent fire spreading to neighboring courtyards. Ancient wisdom is still used in our security system today."

Landmarks protected

The squadron's jurisdiction includes many other national landmarks such as the Tian'anmen Rostrum and the Great Hall of the People, and this means that the firefighters sometimes face a heavier workload, especially during important conferences and festivals.

There is also the National Museum of China, which houses more than 1 million cultural relics, and has a floor area of 192,000-sq-m, one of the biggest in the world.

Du said members of a unit attached to the squadron live in the museum to keep a close eye on the building.

Twelve hydrants are positioned outside. "And 791 more are placed in the walls all over the building," he said. "For such a large construction with so many cultural relics, we need to pay special attention."


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(Web editor: 实习生2, Liang Jun)

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