prison - Olivier Fitoussi - December 6 2010
Benny Kaniak. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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For three days, Prison Service head Benny Kaniak has gone from one funeral to the next, offering condolences to the families of the 36 prison officer candidates who died in the bus caught in the fire. Only now that all have been laid to rest does he have the time to try to come to terms with the disaster that befell his service.

"It is not easy to deal with this," he said yesterday. "It is neither easy on a personal level nor in terms of the organization. These were really our best and they died on duty. They were on a difficult mission to save lives, and they were caught by the fire, along with nearby policemen and firemen."

The prison guards were on their way to help evacuate Damon Prison due to concerns that it, too, could be engulfed in the flames spreading through the Carmel forest. Kaniak was already evacuating prisoners at the prison when the first reports of the disaster arrived.

"The mission was difficult because these are 400 prisoners who need to be kept calm, cared for and safe, but they also must not be allowed to escape. We needed a large force, including the trainee officers. Then the police gave us the terrible news," Kaniak recalls.

Kaniak had been Police Central District commander and deputy police commissioner. Yesterday he tried to fathom the depth of the disaster as he walked through the Haifa cemetery. He know understands that his mission is to bolster the organization, he said.

He is already thinking ahead to the day after the funerals, about the peers of the 36 classmates who died.

"The Prison Service is like a family. Everyone knows everyone else. This is the time to show leadership and be strong," he said.