Lindenstrauss slams Carmel blaze Fire Service failures

Report calls fire authorities unprepared, untrained and disorganized.

Burned out Prison Service bus from Carmel Fire 370 (R) (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / Reuters)
Burned out Prison Service bus from Carmel Fire 370 (R)
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / Reuters)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss highlighted “severe failures” in the way fire authorities handled the 2010 Carmel fire disaster, in a long awaited and devastating report made public Wednesday.
In an examination which lasted nearly a year and a half, Lindenstrauss focused on first day of fire, from the hours before its breakout to the time that flames engulfed a bus carrying dozens of Prisons Service cadets en route to evacuate a prison, killing nearly everyone on board.
Lindenstrauss found systemic failures at every stage of the fire’s first day, writing that firefighting authorities “showed up as the weakest link in the emergency services in Israel.”
“The failures found in the Carmel fire disaster point to a recurring trend and the inability to learn past lessons,” the comptroller said.
“The Fire and Rescue Services were found to be unprepared for unusual incidents, it did not go on stand-by as required, lacks an organizational culture of unified command and control, is not trained enough and is not skilled in managing complex scenes. It lacks the tools and means to command and control forces in these incidents,” the report added.
Lindenstrauss noted the hot dry weather conditions that prevailed in December 2010, which “should have caused fire authorities to be extra alert and carry out preventative steps.” Those steps should have included increasing the number of fire vehicles at fire stations, placing fire planes on standby and receiving a live feed of changing weather conditions.
None of those steps were taken, and in fact, the report found, the Fire and Rescue Services did not regulate its information feed from the Meteorological Service.
Local fire authorities in Haifa and Hadera, the jurisdictions where the Carmel disaster broke out, did not hold fire risk evaluations before the disaster occurred.
Lindenstrauss did stress that “firefighters and their commanders exhibited much bravery while dealing with the fire... and risked their lives,” but went on to slam the way both local fire authorities and the national Fire and Rescue Services managed the event.
“In a complex incident... management skills and command and control are also needed. Their absence stood out on the day of the fire clearly, at both the national and local levels,” he wrote.
The report slammed former commissioner Shimon Romah for not acting to ensure that the service is prepared for unusual emergencies, as well as the head of the Haifa fire service, Aryeh Rehev, and the head of the Hadera fire service, Issachar Tohai, for failing to operate command and control means correctly.
Lindenstrauss identified flaws in the setting up of control rooms, their operations and the way local fire forces built up pictures of events, held evaluations and made decisions on how to engage the flames.
As a result, firefighting efforts were disorganized, not systematic and lacked safety means for fire crews. The report also slammed the Fire and Rescue Services for failing to create a fleet of fire planes and lacking a supply of fire retardants.
“Those responsible must do comprehensive house checks to ensure that the organization can fulfill its duties as stipulated by law,” the report added.
Responding to the report, the new Fire Rescue and Services commissioner Shahar Ayalon said “This report must be fully learned and its recommendations must be applied immediately.”
“We must act on the assumption that the next incident is round the corner. As far as I’m concerned, this is a working plan of the Fire Services for the coming years,” he added.
At the same time, sources at the Fire and Rescue Services say its organization is in much better shape today than it was in December 2010.
“We still need firefighters and more stations so that response times will be no longer than 11 minutes in all of Israel. We believe the quicker the response time, the quicker a fire can be controlled and its damages limited,” the sources said.
Since the Carmel fire disaster, 300 new firefighters have been recruited, a fleet of eight fire planes has been assembled and 1600 fire retardants are in stock. A national control room exists at the Fire and Rescue Service’s Rishon Lezion headquarters. Eight fire stations have been built and 89 trucks have been purchased.