Fire Service: State's report echoes years of warnings

Haifa Firefighters spokesperson says Israel should have on firefighter for every 1,000 residents instead of current one per 7,000 inhabitants.

December 9, 2010 02:49
2 minute read.
A FIREFIGHTER at Yemin Orde youth village

Firefighter Israel Flag 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The State Comptroller’s Report on the Fire and Rescue Service echoed repeated warnings sounded over the years by firefighters over chronic lack of staff, outdated equipment, and underfunding, a senior Fire and Rescue Service official told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“We have warned about these problems many times,” the official said.

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During a press briefing in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shimon Romach added that his organization utterly lacked a hierarchical structure, and that each fire station acted as a sovereign unit.

Romach’s task is limited to providing professional guidelines and coordinating firefighting efforts. During emergencies, the commissioner can also take command of fire stations and move crews from other municipalities to where they are needed.

But Romach stressed that he lacked a control center to receive all reports of blazes, had no operations branch, and no recruitment center.

“Since the Fire Service was set up in 1960, there has been a report by the state comptroller saying that the structure is distorted and needs to be changed. All of the committees [that examined this issue] have said that,” Romach added.

“I have been a commissioner since 2002 out of a belief that we can bring about reform,” Romach said, adding that he was scheduled to complete his service next month, but he would stay “to complete an important national mission” if asked to remain in his post.

Haifa firefighters spokesman Hezi Levi told Israel Radio that understaffed fire stations formed the most pressing problem.

“There should be one firefighter for every thousand residents. Instead we have one firefighter for every seven thousand residents. In the South, the ratio is one firefighter for 15 to 20,000 residents.”

Levi said there was an urgent need to open new fire stations in peripheral areas like the Carmel region and the Negev. Firefighters in the South warned that the closest station to the sensitive Ramat Hovav waste disposal facility, which filled with hazardous chemicals, was located half an hour away in Beersheba.

“Our archives are filled with endless correspondences with ministers of interior and governments.

We went on strike to protest these things,” Levi said.

He added that a firefighting aerial unit capable of dousing flames with water and spraying the area with fire retardants should be attached to each station situated in the countryside to enable rapid responses.

“This does not exist in the State of Israel,” he said.

In a statement responding to the section of the report dealing with the Fire and Rescue Service’s ability to call up firefighters during emergencies, the organization said, “As a first step, the norm for staff levels must be updated and set in accordance with a number of scenarios.”

Jonah Mandel contributed to this report.

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