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Firefighters: Low Staffing Puts Lives at Risk

Officials confront prime minister about inadequate staffing levels and inability to respond in time of danger.
By Ilene Rosenblum
First Publish: 11/17/2009, 10:17 PM / Last Update: 11/18/2009, 10:50 AM

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Firefighting officers and Hatzalah Emergency Rescue of Israel presented Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with a letter on Tuesday explaining that resources are so low that they cannot properly respond to danger, putting residents at risk.The document claims that some parts of the country have no fire safety coverage and that reaction times fall far below the international standard.

In the “Officers’ Letter,” officials declared that they are absolved of responsibility for any disaster caused by their inability to provide service.

“In a number of places in Israel, fire stations are closed and abandoned because of a lack of manpower and budget. In many communities there are no fire stations at all,” the letter explains.

There should be one fire fighter per 1,000 residents in the “civilized world,” according to the letter. In 1996, a committee appointed to examine the firefighting system determined that there should be 2,500 firefighters in Israel. Today, 13 years later, there are only 1,350 Israeli firefighters, the letter stated. With a population of about 7.5 million people, that means only one firefighter for each 5,000 residents.

Slow reaction time was also named a serious danger. The international average reaction time for a firefighting team to arrive at a fire scene or rescue stands at 5 minutes, while in Israel the average reaction time is about 15 minutes, the letter states.

The firefighters warned Netanyahu that under current circumstances, “it is not within our abilities to provide efficient life and property-saving services,” adding, “the current struggle is no longer for the condition of services or salary but rather a struggle over the peace and security of the public.”