Israeli firefighters take about twice as long to respond to fires as do their peers in Western countries. The country has only one fire station for every 75,000 residents, compared to one for every 30,000 residents in other Western nations.
Those are some of the data presented on Wenesday to the Knesset's Interior and Environment Committee by the Public Security Ministry.
While the average response time in Western countries is seven to 10 minutes, in Israel it takes 17 minutes on average to arrive at the scene, even though fires occur in Israel with about the same frequency as in other countries - about three fires per 1,000 residents. While the typical response team at a fire in Israel consists of two firefighters, elsewhere the standard is a commander and four additional personnel.
Israel has a fleet of 301 firefighting vehicles. The fleet includes 70 vehicles that are at least 20 years old. A quarter of the fleet is between 45 and 67 years old.
Appearing before the Knesset committee on Wednesday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said of the NIS 300 million in government funding promised to the fire services this year, only NIS 40 million has actually been received. However Aharonovitch acknowledged that the country's fire services have received a total injection of about NIS 400 million in government funding.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss took Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to task in his report on the 2010 Carmel forest fire, for conditioning the transfer of funds to the fire services on the implementation of certain reforms. Lindenstrauss attributed individual responsibility for the disaster - in which 44 died - to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Steinitz and overall responsibility to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Aharonovitch.
Commenting on the two fires that broke out Tuesday just west of Jerusalem, Aharonovitch said they appear to have been caused by arson. He said there had been high-level cooperation between the firefighters, police and the Magen David Adom rescue service. Forty eight fire crews were dispatched, supported six light aircraft and personnel from the Jewish National Fund.
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