'Intelligent' approach to safety led to improvements since 2006
For most people in Zhili, a small town with a population of 450,000 in Zhejiang province, the two major fires of 2006 will always be the most agonizing memories of their lives.
The town, located in Huzhou's Wuxing county, features textile manufacturing and embroidery techniques, some passed down for 5,000 years, witnessed robust growth in the textile sector and had been dubbed the world's capital for children's clothing since 1990s.
By 2006, sales of children's wear reached 7 billion yuan ($1 billion) in Zhili, accounting for 25 percent of the nation's total. Back then, the town was filled with labor-intensive small workshops, luring 150,000 migrant workers to live and work in the same shops, which also served as warehouses for garment materials and products.
The skyrocketing business growth, coupled with slack factory management, gave rise to major workplace disasters.
On Sept 14, 2006, a fire broke out in the five-story Fuyin Mansion in Zhili town, killing 15 people.
Built in 2001, the building was used to sell children's clothing. The bottom three floors stocked a large collection of garments; the fourth floor was storage space, plus an employee dormitory; and the fifth floor housed 18 people, all relatives of the building's owner.
Just 37 days later, another fire, this one in the Yiti Garment Factory in Zhili, killed eight people, prompting the local government to shut down 901 factories over their failure to properly separate production sites from employees' residential areas.
The two fires rang an alarm bell for local authorities, who formed a team of more than 1,000 administrative officers to launch an 18-month campaign to crack down on unsafe garment factories, moving them to allocated garment manufacturing zones.
Meanwhile, regulations were made to require the isolation of work spaces from residential areas in a bid to curtail the negative effects of fires.
All these measures have borne fruit. Between 2007 and 2018, no major fire with casualties has been reported, and the occurrence of fire-related incidents dropped in the past three years by 24.8 percent, 12.7 percent and 18.6 percent, respectively.
"All these results can be attributed to the intelligent firefighting system we deployed over the years," said Jing Chengyin, head of the fire brigade in Zhili.
According to Jing, the township has created a team of firefighting supervisors inside each factory to monitor the facility on a daily basis.
It also developed an app to enable supervisors to check and report problems they find.
So far, more than 30,900 factories or businesses have registered on the app, helping the authorities discover about 90,000 hidden fire risks throughout the township.
In addition, firefighting authorities developed a fire alarm system throughout the town and installed wireless smoke detectors and an alarm system to notify residents immediately of danger through short messages on their phones.
Recently, it launched the nation's only township-level firefighting museum to train and educate residents and workers in fire-suppression skills.
So far, more than 100,000 factory owners, workers and residents have received formal training on basic firefighting and self-rescue.
"With the implementation of the intelligent firefighting system, the degree of efficiency of rescue efforts in a fire can be greatly improved," said Wu Zhiyong, Party chief of Wuxing county.