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For the members of the fire department, the past week has been filled with little sleep, growing tension and round-the-clock action, as firefighters tirelessly combat the constant barrage of fires caused by Katyusha rocket attacks.
"We are the civilian heroes of this war," said firefighter Hezi Levi, though he added that a lack of manpower and equipment has made the firefighters' jobs difficult.
Due to a shortage of manpower in the areas under fire, nearly half the members of fire department have left their regular posts and gone to help in the North. Now with only half of the firefighters remaining throughout the rest of the country, fire stations in many locations are understaffed.
"Unfortunately it is a short blanket," said Israeli Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Shimon Romach. "When you lift up the blanket you leave your legs uncovered."
To help staff the depleted fire houses, the Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF) has organized for 50 volunteers from the Rockland County Fire Department in New York to come serve in Israel in the coming weeks. The volunteers will be placed at understaffed fire houses throughout the country.
The firefighters in the North have been working around the clock to combat the constant bombardment of Katyushas, often extinguishing hundreds of fires a day. Levi explained the process that occurs when a Katyusha is fired.
"When we hear the siren, we run for shelter, even if the shelter is just a rock. Then, when we are sure that the missile has hit, we get a call from the police or from neighbors with an exact location of the missile. Then we are the first at the scene to extinguish the fire, help those who are injured and search the area for any trapped people," said Levi.
"This scene is very different from that of other fires," he continued. "In other fires we stick around, but here the moment we know the fire is out, we leave as soon as possible because there may be another missile coming."
The commissioner warned that firefighters need to be careful of any un-detonated explosives that may remain in the Katyushas. To combat the risk, firefighters wear army-issued protective gear along with their normal fire suits.
Thus far only two firefighters have been injured. The two suffered minor injuries on Tuesday in the aftermath of a Katyusha attack on Safed. However, after being examined by a paramedic, the injured firefighters demanded to go back to the fire station, not to the hospital.
According to Romach, the firefighters' success is largely due to the department's new and improved fire trucks. The small first responders are able to quickly navigate through narrow city streets or rough forest terrain.
While the trucks are extremely effective, they are in short supply. In an attempt to better equip the fire department, the FIF and the Jewish National Fund of the United States have launched a joint emergency campaign aimed at raising the money necessary to purchase additional trucks. Emergency meetings have been held over the last three days in an effort to quickly raise enough funds to purchase nearly 100 new fire trucks.
Despite the lack of manpower and equipment, the firefighters' determination to extinguish the fires and keep citizens safe is commendable.
"I am very proud of my firefighters. They are doing a very, very good job," said Romach.
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