Officially airborne: Israel Fire and Rescue Services new aerial firefighting squadron, formed with the Air Force, was made officially operational Thursday, in a ceremony held at the Sde Dov Airbase.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and IAF Chief Major-General Ido Nehushtan attended the ceremony.
The squadron was formed in the wake of December's Carmel fire, which raged for four days and nights, claiming 44 lives, forcing the evacuation of nearly 17,000 people, and consuming 8,650 acres of land and natural forest.
Tzvia Riven (M) with PM Netanyahu, IAF Chief Nehushtan (R) and Minister Aharonovitch (L) (Photo: GPO)
The new seven-plane fleet will carry the name "Elad," in honor of 16-year-old firefighting volunteer Elad Riven, who was killed in December's blaze.
Riven's mother, Tzvia, said during the ceremony: "I'm sure what my son would have wanted most of all is for his death not to be in vain. I believe he will watch this squadron from the heavens. I hope it is never called upon, and if it is – that is saves lives."
She further thanked Netanyahu for the quick execution of the aerial squadron idea and asked the unit's members "to please always stay safe."
Netanyahu told those attending the ceremony that he and his wife Sarah have met with the Riven family several times since their loss. "Even though I never met Elad, it is clear to me where he got his character. It is only befitting that the squadron commemorate him… it manifests his two greatest loves – the skies and firefighting."
Maj.-Gen. Nehushtan said that the collaboration between the Air Force and the Fire and Rescue Services is imperative for the new unit's success.
Speaking to Elad's mother, he said: "Dear Tzvia, within the great loss of the fire, Elad's story stood out. An honor student with his whole future ahead of him, who saw saving lives as his mission – in life and in death, Elad symbolizes all that is beautiful in Israel's youth."
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