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Palace Museum firefighters safeguard country's past (3)

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

Water tanks at the museum, used as "hydrants" in imperial times, are still full in the staff members' areas. JIANG DONG/WANG KAIHAO/CHINA DAILY

Du and Li may be among the small number of those living in the palace as imperial families did, but their everyday lives are not that romantic.

A curfew is still imposed at the Forbidden City. Once night falls, all the gates leading to the outside are locked. They cannot be opened unless the squadron is called on to deal with an emergency outside.

"Everyone loves a vibrant night life," Li said. "But it's impossible for us."

Du and Li said they often stood by East Prosperity Gate and peeped through the gap when they first came to the palace. This gate is near Wangfujing, one of Beijing's busiest commercial areas.

"There were many neon lights," Du said. "But they became blurred the farther I looked. "

For those staying overnight in the Forbidden City, it is not unusual to be frightened, thanks to the numerous folk legends that say the building is haunted by spirits.

However, both Du and Li said they had become used to their lives there. Many of their colleagues have transferred to other civilian work, but they chose to remain.

"This work still needs us," Li said. "It's a work of honor, which you cannot get somewhere else. The Palace Museum is my home now."

For each major exhibition at the museum, special patrols are added to check for fire risks in the galleries. "We can be the first ones to enjoy the exhibitions," Li said.

He added that they are not allowed to use an open flame to cook food at the museum, for safety reasons. "In Chinese cuisine, the dishes don't taste perfect when you can only fry food using an electric hob," he said.

Smoking banned

After the fire in Rio, a comprehensive examination was conducted immediately at the Palace Museum to check the fire alarms.

Shan Jixiang, director of the museum, knows that protecting the UNESCO World Heritage site from fire is not only the squadron's responsibility.

In 2013, one year after he took up his post, Shan decided to introduce a smoking ban throughout the complex. At the entrance security checks, lighters are not allowed to be taken inside.

"This work needs cooperation not only from tourists, but also our own staff," Shan said.

Museum employees who want to smoke must leave the premises and walk to designated areas near East Prosperity Gate and West Prosperity Gate.

Shan also said that every new employee at the museum has to be trained by squadron members on how to use fire extinguishers. Drills are held annually to practice salvaging relics in the event of a blaze.

However, he said improvements at the palace have brought new pressures.

For example, to renovate ancient buildings, and for other work, the use of a flame is sometimes unavoidable. Any worker using a flame has to have a certificate, and all fire-risk projects are halted during high winds.

Another challenge is posed by the lighting system in the exhibition halls.

Many tourists complained that the interiors of three major halls-the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony-were too dark, as power lines are not allowed in these buildings due to fire risks.

Shan decided to turn up the light in 2016.

All lights must be at least 1.5 meters away from the walls, and a special type of light is used to lower the heat. Metallic protective layers are added to cover the power lines.

"We have to take all necessary measures without making any errors," Shan said. "Because even a slight error means we lose everything."


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(Web editor: 实习生2, Liang Jun)

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