Lessons learned from 2010 Carmel fire help save lives in 2016
Fire & Rescue Authority adds more firefighters, establishes a firefighting planes squadron, and upgraded its technology, but what it's missing is a permanent leadership, as the appointment of the commission and many senior officers is delayed.
Israel's Fire & Rescue Authority has undergone a complete overhaul since the 2010 Carmel fire, in which 44 people were killed, some 17,000 evacuated from their homes, and 25 dunams of forest were scorched.
"If the fires on Tuesday had happened before the Carmel disaster, it could've ended in disaster as well," said Shimon Ben-Ner, the acting commissioner.
"Since the Carmel disaster, the Fire & Rescue Authority has changed beyond recognition," Ben-Ner said. "At the time, it was made up of dozens of different fire associations acting independently of each other. Each fire association dealt with fires with the inadequate measures at its disposal, and if it needed help it would've called nearby fire associations."
On Tuesday, however, "I was at the control center, in command of operations to extinguish all the different fires, particularly the big fires in Neve Shalom and Zikhron Ya'akov. There were hundreds of firefighters, hundreds of fire trucks, and at any given moment I knew where each of them were thanks to the technological measures we introduced. That is how I could mobilize the forces and concentrate our efforts based on with what was happening on the ground."
Another change is the establishment of a squadron of 14 firefighting planes to replace the crop dusters that were used in the past. Those had to be equipped before being sent out, wasting precious time.
"The slow crop duster planes could only carry 1,500 liters of water. The firefighting planes are faster and can carry 3,000 liters of water. Before the Carmel disaster, we have 14 tons of fire retardant, today we have a 1,000 tons," said Ben-Ner.
Furthermore, "since the Carmel disaster, when we used fire trucks that were decades old—some of which broke down on the way to the fire—dozens of modern fire trucks were acquired, and the firefighters have far more advanced equipment."
Finally, the Fire & Rescue Authority has added more manpower, going from the 1,200 firefighters in 2010 to 1,900 in 2016.
What the Israel Fire & Rescue Authority doesn't have, however, is a permanent leadership. Ben-Ner has been the acting commissioner over the past six months, as the process of selection the permanent commission is delayed. Because he is the temporary position holder, he cannot appoint other senior commanders in the authority.
The selection of the commissioner is delayed because one of the two leading candidates, the Southern District commander Moshe Suissa, is under a disciplinary investigation by the Civil Service Commission.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has decided to wait until the investigation is concluded before making a decision on the appointment.
Meanwhile, Ben-Ner's predecessor Shahar Ayalon did not appoint any senior officers in his last three months on the job, leaving the top posts in the Fire & Rescue Authority filled with temporary appointments, including the commanders of the Northern District, the Jerusalem District, the Coastal Plains District and the head of the Operations Department.
Officials in the authority say the situation causes both short-term and long-term damage to the organization. The Public Security Ministry and the Firefighters Association, however, reject these claims, saying the past 24 hours show the department is functioning well.