The Fire Services Department is considering relaxing requirements for Hong Kong firefighters’ annual fitness tests.

According to proposed changes that could come into effect next year, applicants over the age of 40 or who have sustained injuries will only need to walk one mile (1.6 kilometres) within 13 and a half minutes.

Existing standards for cardiorespiratory endurance, which have been in place for 34 years, demand that firefighters be able to run three miles (4.8 kilometres) within half an hour.

Firefighter fitness test.

Frontline firefighters have expressed concerns regarding the possible reforms, according to Apple Daily. The paper cites one firefighter who told reporters than some members of the service are “overweight and unfit” and consistently failed the physical fitness tests, yet were not penalised by the department for it.

Out of the 7,933 firefighters who took part in the tests in 2013, 1.3 percent failed to meet fitness standards.

Firefighters training.

A source with the Hong Kong Fire Services Department Staffs General Association said that the reforms were “justifiable” since injured firefighters faced immense pressure and the fear of being let go if they failed fitness tests.

The proposed changes, if implemented, will also increase the items on the annual test from five to seven with the addition of a sit-and-reach flexibility test and push-ups.

The importance of stringent training for firefighters was highlighted by the recent chemical explosions in Tianjin, northern China.

76 firefighters died in the tragedy after poorly trained contract workers were sent in to battle the flames with water, possibly causing the second, far larger blast that subsequently engulfed the port facility where toxic chemicals known to react violently with water were stored.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others