State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss surpassed his own renowned levels of stern
criticism this week when he released his damning report into what went wrong
during the 2010 Carmel fire disaster.
Lindenstrauss listed one
operational failure by firefighting authorities after another, placing special
culpability for the failures that led up to the disaster on Interior Minister
Eli Yishai and, more controversially, on Finance Minister Yuval
Many, including politicians such Meretz Chairwoman Zehava
Gal-on – by no means a fan of Steinitz – questioned Lindenstrauss’s decision to
single out the finance minister. After all, they argued, since when is a finance
minister directly responsible for the failings of a fire service? Lindenstrauss
appears to have provided the answer in a series of not-so-subtle hints he
inserted in the section on Steinitz. In essence, the state comptroller argued,
Steinitz’s decision to withhold desperately necessary additional funding from
firefighters until they went through with an efficiency reform plan meant that
games were being played with the domestic emergency service that will prove most
crucial during a future war.
“I am sure that the finance minister, a
senior member of the government and the security cabinet, knew well that the
firefighting and rescue service is the one of the most significant life-saving
emergency elements in the country. The dangers posed to Israel in this field are
heavy in bearing and very realistic.
There is no general security
evaluation that does not raise in its agenda the topic of firefighting and
rescue,” Lindenstrauss wrote in the report.
The hint here appears to be
crystal clear. In any future major conflict (including a potential strike on
Iran’s nuclear program), thousands upon thousands of rockets and missiles are
expected to rain down on the Israeli home front. And it will be the Israel Fire
and Rescue Service (the national firefighting management body) and its fire
unions (regional fire stations funded jointly by local municipalities and the
government) that will form the key internal response to rocket attacks on
“This [the fire service] is a central and foremost
element in the defense of the country and its citizens in the home front, and
the front, during testing times. Failures on this issue endanger, without a
shadow of a doubt, our security and defense,” the report continued, driving its
point home. “The use of the term ‘war’ to signify the battle against a spreading
fire… can also be used as an allegory for the state’s ability [to deal] with
mass disasters as well as with a national emergency,” he
Lindenstrauss then took Steinitz to task for placing reforms,
which included a demand that fire unions forfeit the right to hold strikes, as a
“condition for equipping and upgrading the fire services.”
This, then, is
the reason he decided to allot special responsibility to the finance
Steinitz, for his part, dismissed the criticism as
“hallucinatory,” deliberately choosing a strong term to signify his rejection of
Lindenstrauss’s accusations. The Finance Ministry believes that to automatically
throw money at an emergency service, without seeking an improvement in its
structure and without addressing inefficiency and irregularities, is tantamount
to budgetary suicide.
When it came to addressing the performance of the
fire service, Lindenstrauss was no less sparing in his withering criticisms. He
noted systemic failures by the fire service at every stage of the Carmel
disaster’s first day, writing that firefighting authorities “showed up as the
weakest link in the emergency services in Israel.”
Going even further,
Lindenstrauss released a second report this week, analyzing the performance of
the Fire and Rescue Service and fire unions in the six months that followed the
In it, he said that fire stations situated in areas that have
high-rise buildings, train stations and industrial areas failed to train for
scenarios involving the unique challenges of their locations. It seems clear
that urban fire stations were singled out because of their vital role in a
potential future armed conflict.
The good news, however, is that the
state of the fire authorities has significantly improved since Lindenstrauss
composed his report.
The Fire and Rescue Service has come under the
jurisdiction of the Public Security Ministry, received a NIS 350 million cash
injection, and begun a series of changes to bring it up to par with a modern
firefighting authority, all under the watchful eye of a new commissioner, former
senior policeman Shahar Ayalon.
Since 2010, 300 new firefighters have
been recruited, a fleet of eight fire planes has been assembled and 1,600 tons
of fire retardants are in stock. An advanced national control room exists at the
Fire Service and Rescue’s Rishon Lezion headquarters. Eight new fire stations
have been built and 89 new trucks have been purchased.
importantly, firefighting authorities are working to improve their command and
control abilities at both national and local levels. The Public Security
Ministry and the IDF Home Front Command created channels of communication to
ensure that all emergency services can speak with one another during emergencies
and coordinate efforts.
“We’re really not where we were in 2010,” Fire
and Rescue Service spokesman Yoram Levi told The Jerusalem Post. “Most
importantly, we have an aerial fleet. We also have a national operations
And we coordinate closely with other emergency services and the
IDF Home Front Command.”
Levi said that if a similar fire were to break
out in the Carmel today, “We would set up a joint operations center with Magen
David Adom, the police and the IDF. The new model is already up and running. The
days when the fire commissioner shows up alone at the scene of a blaze with just
a cellphone are over.”
“Today we have regulations according to which a
police helicopter transmits live images of the blaze, so we can see where it is
going,” he added.
Similarly, the influx of 300 new firefighters and
equipment has significantly improved the service’s abilities, he argued. “In
some fire stations, we have 20 new firefighters – too many for shifts,” Levi
Asked to address the service’s readiness to tackle rocket attacks
on built-up areas, Levi said there had been recognizable
“Urban rescue situations are simulated in basic [cadet]
courses and fire station courses [for serving firefighters],” he said. “Once,
there was no one responsible for training. Today we have a national training
body that oversees this field. There are 23 stations that routinely train urban
missions involving high-rise buildings,” he added.
The training sessions
include using cranes that can reach high up into buildings and rescuing trapped
individuals from burning buildings as well as from wreckage.
have an emphases in prevention, such as installing sprinkler systems in all
high-rise buildings,” Levi said.
He conceded, however, that “It’s never
enough. There’s always room for more improvement.”
Much work remains for
those building up Israel’s firefighting capabilities. But at least the cause has
risen higher up in the national agenda. Today, funds and planning are being
invested in the emergency service that was rightly identified by Lindenstrauss
as the key to a successful domestic responses to potential future conflicts.