'Israel’s firefighting resources dwarfed by West'

Fire and Rescue commissioner: More funds needed to bring the service up to standard with Western countries.

January 30, 2012 23:22
2 minute read.
Burnt trees after the Carmel Fire

Burnt trees after the Carmel Fire 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

More than a year after the Carmel Fire, Israel is still lagging behind other Western countries in firefighting resources, Fire and Rescue commissioner Shahar Ayalon said Monday.

While European and North American countries have an average of 3,000 residents for every firefighter, in Israel, the average is 6,000 residents per firefighter, according to figures unveiled by Ayalon at an annual sum-up at the Service’s Rishon Lezion headquarters.

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Similarly, in most Western countries, there is an average of 15,000 residents for every fire station, while in Israel there are around 30,000 residents per station.

It takes an average of seven minutes for firefighters to arrive at the scene of a blaze in Western states, but in Israel, the same is true for only 60 percent of the population (4.7 million people), most of whom live in the Gush Dan metropolitan area. For residents of peripheral areas, firefighters can take up to 17 minutes to reach fires.

According to senior fire official Eyal Caspi, who spoke at the press briefing, the response time is the most crucial aspect that determines how serious a fire incident will be.

“The quicker we get there, the less chance it will turn into a major incident,” he said.

Peripheral areas are also scene to the largest concentration of multi-story residential buildings built before 1980, which lack basic fire safety measures such as smoke outlets, fire detectors, and wide staircases. Caspi said those buildings represent “our biggest challenge.” To that end, Ayalon plans to submit a five-year plan to the Public Security Ministry, which will call for the opening of 61 new fire stations, mostly in peripheral areas, to raise the number of 103 stations to 164, in the coming years.

The Fire Service will request an increase in government budget so it can provide “a professional service that the country deserves,” Ayalon said.

A month after the Carmel Fire, the government provided a one-off payment of NIS 250 million, with which an aerial fleet of eight fire planes was built and 91 trucks purchased. But more funds are needed to bring the service up to standard with Western countries, Ayalon said.

As part of lessons learned from the disaster, the Fire Service will install hi-tech electronic sensors in forests and fields that will provide real-time information on heat conditions and spreading fires.

Trucks are being installed with satellite tracking systems, and a digital communication system is being introduced that will allow firefighters to speak to police and the air force during emergencies.

The information networks will be hooked up to a new control center in Rishon Lezion that will receive video feeds from across the country.

In the coming months, the Service will hold a drill with counterparts from Cyprus in the Jerusalem area, Ayalon said.

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