Netanyahu 311 reuters.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Despite concerns Monday that a Knesset hearing on fire service readiness could turn into a political ambush against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister braved the threat to participate in a briefing as to what steps will be taken to heal Israel’s ailing fire services. Families of the 44 victims of December’s Carmel Fire were present at the heated meeting of the State Control Committee, but contrary to initial concerns, order was maintained at the meeting.
Committee Chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) opened the meeting by reiterating his insistence that the meeting be open to all – including all of the bereaved families from the Carmel Fire. On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office had expressed concern that the families’ participation could cause embarrassment to Netanyahu, who was an active participant in the three-hour-long meeting.
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“Knesset hearings are open to all those who believe that they are relevant to the hearing. This report is relevant to the Carmel tragedy, because the fire services did not perform as one would hope,” said Hasson. “We will hold a follow-up meeting in another three months together with the directors-general of the relevant ministries in order to make sure that recommendations are being carried out as well as to check the preparation of the new fire services system.”
The State Control Committee met to discuss the December 2010 State Comptroller’s Report on Israel’s fire and rescue services.
The report was prepared by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in the
months that preceded the Carmel Fire, but was sped up for release in the
aftermath of the conflagration that cost 44 lives. It found that few,
if any, of the shortcomings found in the larger report on Home Front
preparedness prepared following the Second Lebanon War, had been
corrected in the ensuing years.
Following the Carmel Fire, the government staved off calls to establish
an investigative commission by requesting that Lindenstrauss’s office
prepare a report to specifically examine responsibility for the fire,
and for the heavy losses suffered, both in lives and in property.
Lindenstraus revealed during the Monday meeting that 30 people were
tasked with investigating the tragic fire, an unprecedented size for
such a probe team. In comparison, only 16 investigators prepared the
massive report on the Second Lebanon War.
The report on the fire, Lindenstrauss said, is likely to be concluded in
another four months. In the mean time, he warned, fire services could
collapse under the weight of large-scale disasters, such as hazardous
material spills, terror attacks, or earthquakes.
Immediately before the meeting, Netanyahu met with bereaved families in
his office, and when he began his address in the crowded committee room,
he reiterated the promise that he had made in his office to help them
address concerns regarding commemoration of their loved ones.
The main focus of the prime minister’s briefing to the nearly two dozen
MKs centered around plans to establish an aerial fire-fighting service.
That unit, he said, would be officially established under the auspices
of the IAF, and would coordinate its activities with the new national
fire service. Netanyahu said that he had been particularly impressed by
the performance of Canadian-made fire-extinguishing airplanes, but that
the waiting list for these aircraft was three years.
Nevertheless, he said, Israel would act immediately to set up a
seven-plane squadron of fire-fighting planes, including two “scooper”
planes that can quickly refill their water payload by swooping down over
bodies of water.
Public Security Ministry Dir.-Gen. Ya’akov Genot focused on structural
changes to the fire services as part of their ongoing integration under
the auspices of his ministry. Genot said that the reorganized fire
service would be based on a national, pyramidal structure similar to the
Israel Police and the Israel Prison Services, both of which are run by
Heckled by a fire fighter’s representative throughout his briefing,
Genot added that the restructured fire services would enlist between
300-500 fire fighters, who would be reinforced by a system of fire
reservists and volunteers. All of the budget promised by the government,
he said, had already been transferred to the ministry, which was
working to rebuild the fire training academy and acquire new, modern
equipment. He denied reports that a number of fire fighters would be
fired as part of the re-structuring.