Eli Yishai 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After weeks of back-and-forth in the shadow of the Carmel fire disaster, the Finance and Interior ministries reported on Thursday that they had reached an agreement by which NIS 300 million would be added to the nation’s firefighting budget in the coming year.
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The announcement came a day after the coalition drew criticism for approving the 2011-2012 state budget in the Finance Committee without any addition to the sum allotted for the fire services.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) had determined that the beleaguered fire and rescue services would receive the budget boost to re-outfit antiquated equipment and reinforce manpower.
The government is expected to provide an additional NIS 50m. to reinforce the nation’s aerial firefighting capacity, which was privatized following a cabinet decision in 2001.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said he would continue to fight for an increased budget for aerial fire-fighting, as it was a question of “saving human lives.”
The budgetary transfer is expected to be presented to the government in January, together with a plan to streamline the fire services into a centralized national body.
Earlier on Thursday, tensions rose during a Knesset Interior Committee meeting to discuss Committee chairman David Azoulay’s (Shas) private member’s bill to nationalize the fire and rescue services under one governmental authority. Currently, fire and rescue services are managed on a municipal or regional level, creating a situation in which there is only a weak national structure to respond to large emergencies.
The meeting was delayed by a half-hour, after the committee room filled with firefighters’ representatives, but representatives of most government ministries concerned did not show up. After the delay, ministry representatives were rushed to the Knesset to participate in the hearing, during which the firefighting services criticized the Finance Committee’s approval on Wednesday of the state budget for the next two years without any addition to the fire service’s budget.
Fire service representatives said that they had requested NIS 500m. to
rehabilitate the failing firefighting system following the Carmel fire
that killed 44 people.
The leader of the firefighter’s union also attacked Fire Commissioner
Shimon Romach for saying that he was willing to adopt government reform
plans for the fire services that included barring firefighters from
holding strikes or unionizing.
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