In the wake of a recent fire that ravaged nearly 200 acres of forest land near Haifa, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF) officially inaugurated a joint emergency campaign on Monday, aimed at purchasing much-needed fire trucks for the depleted Israeli fire department.
"In light of the fire just put out in Haifa in the Carmel, we are unfortunately facing a very hard summer," said Eldad Halachmi, Director General of FIF. "We know that that fire was arson. One of the types of terror that we don't really realize, but takes place all the time, is arson in our forests - and that's exactly why JNF is jumping into the picture."
The inauguration of the joint emergency campaign took place at the Rehovot fire department, and featured distinguished guests such as Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF of the United States, and members of the JNF Board of Directors. The presentation included a short film about the fire department and the new campaign. Two of the new fire trucks were also revealed.
Although FIF has raised nearly $4 million through a campaign it began two years ago, directors were more than willing to let the JNF join the effort.
"The joint program is a move forward. Though we have some very well-known people in Israel and well-known donors, we decided that together with JNF USA is the best way to move ahead - to join with an organization that is very well established. I must say all the leadership of JNF USA is very helpful and they already came up with seven fire trucks," said Halachmi.
The campaign's goal is twofold. It intends to raise enough money to purchase 100 small, first-response fire trucks. These trucks are especially effective since they are small enough to get through narrow city streets, yet rugged enough to handle off-road terrain. Additionally, the small trucks cost only about $100,000 each, whereas larger trucks can cost around $500,000. The JNF also hopes that the increased amount of fire trucks and fire protection will entice settlement in the Negev.
"For us, it's one additional partner which helps us in the expansion of our drive to bring 250,000 people to the Negev in the next five to seven years," said Russell Robinson, CEO of the JNF in the United States.
According to Robinson, the JNF has investigated reasons people don't move the Negev, as well as why people decide to settle there. After concluding their research, JNF believes that better fire protection will increase the settlement of the Negev. According to Robinson, the increase in fire protection is part of a quality of life that is desirable to potential home buyers.
"Everyone wants to move to a place with a quality of life that includes protection from fires," he said.
Once the joint campaign purchases the fire trucks, it would like to place them in areas that are currently lacking first responders. For example, the Arava road that goes to Eilat is the scene of many car accidents; however, without a fire truck stationed nearby, many of the accidents there end in fatalities.
According to Halachmi, a fire department investigation revealed that "on the Arava road we could save fifty percent of the causalities if we at least had a fire truck in that area."
Hezi Levi, one of the firefighters who participated in extinguishing the fire near Haifa, expressed concern that the fire department lacks necessary equipment to fight fires effectively.
"First, we are short of manpower in such a huge forest fire. The big disadvantage, however, is the air support. We cannot fight a forest fire with an effective force if that force that doesn't have a big airplane. In the US and other parts of Europe, the firefighters have very big airplanes that can carry 6,000 cubic meters of water. But here, we can only take 1,000 cubic meters of water," said Levi.
In an attempt to better equip the fire department, the campaign has been receiving donations from corporations and private donors around the world. Once enough money is collected to purchase a truck, the donor is given the opportunity to choose the truck's destination from a list of possible sites.
"We give them a list of sites and they get to really be part of the selection process," said Robinson.
So far, about 20 trucks have been purchased, including one that was recently donated to the town of Yeroham by Ronald Lauder, President of the JNF USA.
The new fire trucks will help to rejuvenate a presently decrepit fleet of trucks.
"The one we have now in Dimona is 30 years old, and we have about 60 or 70 around the country we need to replace," said Halachmi.
Levi was quite happy with the addition of the new trucks. "It's going to help, of course," he said. "It will give us a very good advantage. The fire trucks have a lot of problems in use because they work all day. We have to fix them often and we have to do many repairs. The fire trucks are old and they can only last for ten years. After that its not worth it."
Levi went on to say that with the addition of the new trucks, he thinks that maybe "there is a light at the end of the tunnel."