Eran Wolkowski |
Photo by Eran Wolkowski |
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The fires in the Carmel are out. The victims have been laid to rest. The injured are being treated. The process of emotional and physical rehabilitation has begun. The question of who bears responsibility for the disaster is being and will continue to be discussed, whether in the wake of the State Comptroller's report, in monitoring the government's response (or lack thereof, in this instance ) to the previous report or in the public sphere. At this moment, however, it is critical to address the immediate implementation of the initial lessons that can be learned from the fire - before the next one flares up.

The first lesson is that firefighting, fire rescue and fire prevention fall into the realm of para-security and not into those of public order or quality of life. Only when this distinction is recognized can the issue be given a higher place on the national agenda.

The second lesson is that firefighting does not belong in the Interior Ministry, a ministry that talks instead of acting. The amount of attention it pays to local governments - which bear partial responsibility for firefighting services - depends on the political considerations of the reigning minister. The Israel Fire and Rescue Commission must be moved to a different ministry.

The third lesson is that the Ministry of Public Security performed very well in the Carmel fire disaster. If reinforced, it could control, in addition to the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service, the fire and rescue commission. The commission itself must be reconstituted, with a professional command structure and access to proper resources.

The fourth lesson concerns the need for the consolidation of authority and responsibility of all of the country's emergency services. Both the National Emergency Authority and the Home Front Command are part of the Defense Ministry. Both answer directly to the minister of defense, although in practice the NEA is subordinate to the deputy minister and the HFC, as part of the Israel Defense Forces, is also subordinate to the IDF chief of staff. But in the face of a civilian disaster like the Carmel fire, this command structure loses its meaning. The military aid was given in spite of, not because of, this chain of command. The Home Front Command, the National Emergency Authority and the fire and rescue organizations (including Magen David Adom, if possible ), must be brought together. It follows from this that both the HFC and the NEA should be moved to the Public Security Ministry.

There is little that is new in these lessons. Various panels have made similar or even identical recommendations over the years. Successive governments have failed to implement them - more out of political considerations than ones germane to the issue. That error must be corrected now, while the images of the most recent disaster are still fresh but before the next one arrives.