'Israel's fire infrastructure far behind the West'

State Comptroller Lindenstrauss presents Carmel Fire report to Rivlin, says negligence requires immediate attention.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN,
June 20, 2012 10:41
3 minute read.
Man surveys Carmel fire at Kibbutz Beit Oren

Carmel Fire 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)

 
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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss presented his report on the Carmel Fire to Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin Wednesday morning, telling him that Israel's fire service infrastructure is far behind other western countries.

Lindenstrauss told Rivlin Israel has only one quarter the firemen and firetrucks as other western countries. Additionally, the country has only a fraction of the materials for dropping on fires that it is required to have. Instead of having 250 tons of those materials plus another emergency stock of 200 tons, Israel only has 20, he said.

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Discussing the recommendations included in his report, which will be published at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Lindenstrauss said his recommendations must be implemented. The negligence revealed in the report "requires immediate public attention."

Rivlin said that the report is not political in nature but has political consequences

The report is directed at "preparing for reforms that will allow us to deal with similar challenges that we are likely to face," Rivlin explained.

The report is expected to focus on ministerial failures in upgrading the country’s firefighting services. It is expected to place a “special responsibility” on Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for failing to modernize the country’s ailing firefighting infrastructure before the December 2010 fire.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is also expected to say that Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should bear “general responsibility” for the failures that led to the disaster.



The police, firefighting services and Prisons Service are also expected to come under heavy criticism.

The fire, the worst in Israel’s history, claimed the lives of 44 people, among them 37 Prisons Service cadets and their commanding officers, who died when their bus was engulfed by flames. The bus was traveling to the Damon Prison to evacuate prisoners. Three police officers and three firefighters were also killed.

The fire also caused widespread damage to land and property, totaling million of shekels. An estimated 1.5 million trees were destroyed in the fire.

Lindenstrauss has repeatedly warned that the audit will expose serious failures that require immediate correction.

Earlier this year, Lindenstrauss said the report will focus on six key issues: the events of the first day of the fire, from the morning until after the bus tragedy; the preparedness of security services for emergency situations; prevention of forest fires; the firefighting services; local government and Interior Ministry preparedness for fires and their functioning during the fire; and failures of those ministers responsible, including in previous governments.

In March, Lindenstrauss’s office sent copies of the report, titled “The Carmel Fire December 2010 – Omissions, Failures and Conclusions,” to all audited parties, including Steinitz, Yishai, Netanyahu, Aharonovitch and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Lindenstrauss’s full report into the fire also comes after the state comptroller – in a previous report – dubbed Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services the “weak link” in emergency readiness and said that ministerial responsibility lay with Yishai.

In January, Hebrew language press reports said that Lindenstrauss may recommend that Yishai and Steinitz be dismissed from their respective posts.

Sources who read leaked copies of Wednesday’s report said the state comptroller is not expected to call for Yishai and Steinitz to resign, but may recommend they be transferred to different government positions, so that they may remain in the cabinet.

Also in January, Channel 2 reported that Lindenstrauss told the families of those who died in the fire that criticism would be “directed at ministers” in the report.

The report’s length is directly correlated to the “scale of the disaster and its serious consequences” and that it reveals “a long series of blunders and failures, the tragic outcome of which is that the fatal fire in the Carmel – which took a toll of unprecedented magnitude – was not avoided,” the State Comptroller’s Office said last year.

A team of 30 auditors, led by the State Comptroller’s Office deputy director-general Boaz Aner, have worked around the clock on the report, Lindenstrauss’s office has said.

JPost.com staff contributed to this report.

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