Eyesight and physical requirements are being relaxed for Hong Kong firefighter applicants from next month but recruits will still have to pass an existing fitness programme to enter the service, the chief of its training school has said.
Fire and Ambulance Services Academy commandant Yiu Men-yeung said he hoped the relaxed requirements would attract candidates from more diverse backgrounds as well as those who wore glasses.
“We hope that after adjusting our visual acuity and physical fitness requirements, we can boost the number of passing candidates. We hope to attract more competent candidates from different backgrounds to apply for our openings,” he said on Wednesday.
Yiu said he hoped that with the Fire Services Department’s relaxed requirements, the pass rate for the vision and fitness test could rise to around 80 to 90 per cent from the current 60 per cent.
The department is among the disciplined services relaxing their recruitment criteria to address hiring problems.
Yiu said 3 per cent of fire service jobs were unfilled as of this month. For station officer posts – the most difficult to fill – 90 vacancies remained, taking up 10 per cent of the total establishment.
The department is also looking to fill 120 firefighter spots, 10 ambulance officer positions and 60 ambulancemen and ambulancewomen posts.
From December 1, applicants for station officer and firefighter positions will take the same two-part eyesight test.
Applicants will first have to read out letters on a chart, passing the test if they can identify the first four rows of letters correctly with each eye.
In the second part, candidates can wear glasses when reading out letters on the chart with both eyes, passing if they get the first six rows right.
Candidates who wear glasses will be equipped with tailor-made ones inside helmets at work, with the department paying HK$2,000 (US$256) per pair.
They will be allowed to work on certain operations, such as traffic accident rescues, wearing their own glasses. But Yiu said contact lens would not be allowed for safety reasons.
However, he stressed that firefighters could not suffer from severe myopia.
“If they were working on a high-altitude rescue and dropped their glasses they would not be able to pick them up easily, so it would be dangerous,” Yiu said.
The new eyesight tests depart from the existing practice where firefighters have to be able to correctly identify the first six rows of letters with each eye. Station officers have to be able to identify five rows of letters with each eye and six rows using both eyes without glasses.
Kam Chi-hang, assistant divisional officer for recruitment, training and examination, said visual acuity requirements had been different for station officers and firefighters to accommodate paperwork tasks for the former.
“With glasses permitted in the new arrangement, candidates can complete the test with their normal visual range. This means firefighters and station officers can both complete their tasks at work,” Kam said.
The eyesight impairment limit for firefighters and station officers would be two dioptres, Yiu said.
Applicants for operational posts in firefighting and ambulance work will undergo a relaxed physical assessment from December, with the time limit for all tests extended from 60 seconds to 90 seconds and the number of challenges reduced.
The department said it had also relaxed requirements for three items which most candidates considered challenging.
Under the amendments, candidates will pass the test if they can perform one chin-up on an elevated horizontal bar in 90 seconds. They can also opt to perform three inclined chin-ups, where candidates lift their body by gripping a horizontal bar with their arms bent at 90 degrees, instead.
The number of parallel bar dips will also be reduced to five in 90 seconds from nine, and candidates will only have to complete 28 push-ups instead of the original 32.
Yiu said the fitness requirements for entry only delineated recruits’ ability to be trained, as new joiners would still have to pass a 26-week training programme to qualify for the post.