'Fire services on verge of collapse'

MKs, firefighters encourage establishment of national fire and rescue body

firefighters 88 (photo credit:)
firefighters 88
(photo credit: )
A third of all firefighting vehicles did not make it to their destinations in working order during the recent wave of wildfires, Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Shimon Romah told members of the Interior Committee on Wednesday, during a hearing on the establishment of a national fire and rescue service. "Without reforms to the organizational structure, the fire services will collapse - and we are closer to that now than ever before," warned Romah. "The situation is becoming more and more serious - the equipment's age is rising and many of the vehicles are even older than the senior firemen. In the most recent wave of fires that we saw in resent days, we didn't know where to send firefighting forces first." Romah emphasized that 30 percent of the firefighting vehicle fleet experienced technical failures preventing them from responding to incidents - either stopping on the way or on the scene itself. The solution, Romah and committee members agreed, was the proposed establishment of a national fire and rescue service. Such a service was proposed in a private bill by MK David Azoulai, and was also determined to be necessary during a cabinet meeting on May 11. "If the firefighting services will become a government institution, salaries will be paid on time and the acquisition of equipment will work smoothly," explained Azoulai. "We will be able to say that we did something for the sake of saving lives." The Finance Minsitry, said Interior Committee Chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines, has already given the "green light" for the establishment of the national body, and even the Firefighters' Organization, which had been viewed as a possible front of opposition to the plan, expressed its support for the idea. "The structural change is healthy and welcomed and the firefighters don't oppose it, but there is a certain fear among firefighters of drastic change and heads set rolling," said Haziza Victor, representative of the firefighters' organization. "The firefighters are in a situation of complete uncertainty regarding salaries, pensions, equipment and vehicles, and that must change." The committee decided Wednesday to combine Azoulai's proposal with the government proposal which was still yet to be completed. But, in spite of the apparent across-the-board support for the restructuring of fire and rescue services, committee members worried that the shadow of elections could prevent the reforms from seeing the light of day. Paz-Pines, however, promised that the committee would advance the process of establishing the service, in order to keep in relevant even in the event that the government falls. "Before the end of the session, in the event that the bill to dissolve the Knesset advances, we will present Azoulai's proposal for a first reading so that the process of hearings will be held in the coming Knesset in order to ensure the establishment of a national firefighting service with the next government," Paz-Pines explained.