Agreement reached to pay firefighters their delayed salaries

The municipalities and the Interior Ministry came to an agreement Tuesday to distribute NIS 650,000 in unpaid salaries owed to 90 firefighters in the North, according to Danny Hananiya of the Kiryat Shmona fire department. However, he said that some salaries will still remain unpaid, although the firefighters are continuing to work. He pleaded for help from anyone who was willing to step forward to support the firefighters. Firefighters battling wildfires sparked by falling Katyushas have had their salaries delayed by two to three months, according to Hezi Levi, captain of the Haifa fire department. "This has been going on for two years; this is not because of the war," he said. The average salary of a firefighter is NIS 25 per hour. Fifty percent of the fire departments' budget is provided by the local municipalities, while the other half is supplied by the Interior Ministry. Levi insisted that the municipalities were not upholding their end of this agreement and that especially in Kiryat Shmona and cities in the western Galilee, the municipalities were not paying their debts to the fire departments. A spokesperson from the Kiryat Shmona municipality admitted that the issue of firefighters receiving their salaries late was a "problem" and promised that within two days all firefighters would receive all the money that was owed to them. Firefighters normally work 24-hour shifts and then take 48 hours off to rest. Since Hizbullah began firing rockets into northern Israel almost one month ago, they have had to work 48-hour shifts while taking only 24 hours off. Often, as soon as one blaze is extinguished, firefighting teams are redirected to a new blaze without time to rest in between. So far, six firefighters have been injured while fighting the hundreds of fires that have broken out in the North. Working such long hours with little rest while having to carry extra protective equipment due to the rockets and shelling, firefighters have become more prone to injury, as they become weak and tired. According to KKL-JNF, since the rocket barrages began falling into the North, more than 15,000 dunams of forests and woodlands have been damaged or destroyed by wildfires sparked by exploding Katyusha rockets. According to Levi, more than half of the firefighting force currently in the North has been brought in from other parts of the country to supplement the region's limited firefighting capabilities. Israel's Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Shimon Romach is in North America this week to launch the American and Canadian Friends of Israeli Firefighters, which will raise money to help purchase new equipment and fund Israel's firefighting efforts. Romach has unsuccessfully appealed to Israeli government officials in recent days to request emergency funding for the current firefighting efforts. Levi also said that planes being used to drop fire-retardant to prevent wildfires from spreading are now unable to fly due to the lack of funding.