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Pedestrians and cyclists in a busy riverside town outside of Shanghai can move about with more peace of mind thanks to the efforts of a highly trained rescue team.
For over a decade, the team"s patrols have helped prevent accidents, especially along the Dianpu River in Zhujiajiao - a town with a history of more than 1,700 years in suburban Qingpu district.
Members perform various tasks, including fighting fires, emergency water rescues, and flood prevention and typhoon preparedness, according to Chen Chunhao, director of the Zhujiajiao"s conscription office, which oversees the team.
The team has several dozen members, he said. Half are ex-military and the rest are college graduates under 25. All are unpaid but receive free training, and were selected through exams and stamina tests.
The group is officially classed as a militia, which still operate nationwide under guidance from local authorities. They play a part in protecting national security and respond to emergencies that threaten social stability. However, such groups are only armed during training with the military.
"We undertake more diversified duties - mainly covering the propagation of national defense knowledge and performing daily guard duty along the river - in addition to our basic security work," said Li Linjie, the team leader. "For example, we rescued a 22-year-old woman who attempted to drown herself in the river in September."
In January, the team also cleared heavy snow from the streets and laid skid-resistant straw mats to protect vehicles and pedestrians.
On an average day, Zhujiajiao receives more than 40,000 tourists keen to take in the town"s history and watery vistas, and accidents sometimes occur with children and the elderly trying to negotiate the river"s slippery banks.
"We"re ready for every mission," Li said. "Every member also speaks a second language, to help foreign tourists in town."
According to its members, the team"s track record of success is due to its disciplined military-style management.
"A full set of equipment is available to us, including rescue and patrol boats, inflatable rafts, motorcycles and firefighting tools," said Yuan Heqiang, another team leader.
Members undergo regular military training and physical conditioning, as well as study water-rescue and firefighting techniques. "We even began using drones last year to quicken our emergency response time," Yuan said.
Experts from the Qingpu Lifesaving Association and the Qingpu Red Cross Association are regularly invited to teach the team the latest techniques in water rescue and first aid.
"The emergency response team has become a key guardian of peace and security in Zhujiajiao," said Colonel Li Huilin of the Qingpu district"s conscription office.
Over the past 11 years, the unit has coped with more than 30 major disasters and 500 crises, helping prevent property losses of more than 8 million yuan ($1.21 million), especially before and during weather emergencies.