’Deficient’ Ashkelon firefighting to be revamped

Public Security Ministry releases stinging report; source tells 'Post' failures noted in report could “cause a national disaster.”

Aharonovitch_311 reuters (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Aharonovitch_311 reuters
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Firefighters in Ashkelon are revamping their abilities to deal with hazardous chemicals and preventing fires from breaking out at strategically sensitive sites in the area, following a stinging report released by the Public Security Ministry on Sunday.
“The findings [of the report] include severe deficiencies in operational readiness and functionality,” the ministry said. The report found that although every firefighter must undergo 80 hours of training, firefighters in Ashkelon “had almost no training time at all.”
The failings come “despite the fact that the local fire authority is in a stable financial situation and enjoys a budgetary surplus,” the report said, which also noted shortages in personnel and vital equipment.
The report followed an inspection ordered by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch after he received information on failures.
A source from the minister told The Jerusalem Post the failures noted in the report could “cause a national disaster,” adding, “they couldn’t deal with hazardous substances or fires that can cause explosions. We have to ensure they have the right equipment. This isn’t just another city. It has strategic sites that are very sensitive, and if firefighters can’t function as they should, it could end in a disaster on a national scale.
“We already had one disaster in Carmel,” the source continued, referring to the December 2010 Mount Carmel fire that killed 43 people. The source said an inspection would soon be launched on the fire station in Tiberias following concerns raised there.
But Yigal Zohar, who became commander of the Ashkelon fire department in May, said work had already been launched months ago to redress the issues highlighted in the report, saying the inspection was relevant for the year 2009 and did not reflect the current situation.
“Since I’ve come in, we’ve had across-the-board changes in all aspects, including personnel and equipment,” he said. “We’ve repaired quite a lot of the shortcomings, and we will continue to work,” Zohar said. “Seventeen firefighters are about to join our station.”
In January, the Fire and Rescue Services came under the jurisdiction of the Public Security Ministry. Local fire stations are still funded by local authorities, called fire unions.
Following the findings, members of the Ashkelon Fire Union, who are local authority heads, including Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin tendered their resignation as Union members, the Public Security Ministry said.
The ministry accepted their resignations and appointed a temporary replacement committee.
Zohar said, however, that the resignations had more to do with the transfer of jurisdiction over the firefighters from local authorities to the Public Security Ministry then failures in the report.