Report: Fire services are Israel’s weak link

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Fire and Rescue Services organization is the weak link in Israel’s emergency readiness, a report said.

The report issued Wednesday by Israel’s State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said fire preparedness is the responsibility of the Interior Ministry, and it called on the government to "immediately stop the foot-dragging regarding the fire services, and the handing-off of responsibility from one minister to another."

"The ministers who have any association with the issue — starting with the Finance Minister and including the Defense Minister, who is responsible for the National Emergency Authority — must join together to immediately carry out the government’s decision to establish a national fire and rescue authority and to organize the fire services in a way that suits its purpose – something that should have already been done.”

The report was part of a larger one about the failures in homefront readiness in light of the Second Lebanon War, but was released Wednesday in the wake of the Carmel Forest fire that started Dec. 2 and was extinguished Dec. 5. Forty-two people died as a result of the blaze, while 15,000 were evacuated from the area in northern Israel and  more than 12,000 acres of land were burned.

Using information from 2007 to 2009, the report noted that Interior Minister Eli Yishai had warned the government regarding the dire state of the Fire and Rescue Services, something Yishai has been saying since fingers began pointing at him even before the fire had been completely put out.

A report in 2007 following the Second Lebanon War found numerous deficiencies in the services’ readiness for emergencies, including the fact that firefighters could be called up for regular military reserve duty during a time of war, depleting the fire services’ already thin manpower.

In May 2008, the government voted to establish a national fire and rescue authority, but as of the release of the report Wednesday it had not been implemented.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a regional firefighting force in phone calls to world leaders. 

The Israeli leader spoke Tuesday "with Greek, Russian, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian Authority leaders to propose the creation of a regional firefighting force, which would be deployable region-wide in response to fires and other natural disasters," according to a summary sheet provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is coordinating U.S. assistance to Israel in the wake of the recent devastating forest fires in Israel’s North.

The nations listed are among dozens that have sent assistance in recent days.

Netanyahu’s government has come under sharp criticism in the Israeli media for being ill repared for the fires.

 

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