Israel's New Fire Chief Accused of Preventing Women From Becoming Firefighters

Head of national firefighters’ association says entrance exams have been changed in a way designed to prevent women from joining force.

Firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016.
Jack Guez, AFP

The head of the firefighters union has accused the new fire commissioner of acting to prevent women from becoming firefighters.

In a letter sent to both the commissioner and all union members on Tuesday, national firefighters’ association head Avi Ankori said that since Deddy Simhi became commissioner, the Fire and Rescue Services’ entrance exams have been changed in a way designed to prevent women from becoming firefighters.

Moreover, he charged, the new exams don’t necessarily ensure that the most qualified people are accepted into the service, because they bear “very little connection to the demands of the job.”

“We firefighters are being asked to assist in training workers who aren’t necessarily the best, and to watch a situation in which one of the exams’ goals is filtering women out of the firefighting system, something which has no precedent in any civilized country,” the letter continued.

Finally, Ankori accused Simhi of insulting a female member firefighting while they were both attending a meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

“I’m sorry to say our impression is that relations between the sexes in our organization are heading toward a bad, improper and illegitimate place,” he concluded.

Simhi, who took office on March 6, came to the fire service from the Israel Defense Forces, where his last post was head of the Home Front Command. Though he has been in office less than a month, the union has already accused him of taking several unilateral steps, without consulting the firefighters themselves.

Some of these steps, the union says, violate the agreement the service signed with the Public Security Ministry as part of the reforms that followed the Carmel forest fire in 2010.

Inter alia, the union is angry that Simhi didn’t even consider other physicians with expertise in post-traumatic stress before appointing a doctor from the army and giving him the service’s highest rank. Failure to consult the union about this appointment violates “all our agreements,” Ankori’s letter complained.

He also complained about other unilateral changes, including changes in the working conditions of firefighters in the Shai District, which covers the West Bank, and cancelation of the service’s delegation to the World Firefighters Games.

“As commissioner, I expect you to internalize international law, which makes a clear distinction between civilian rescue services ... and the police, and all the more so the army,” Ankori wrote. “We’re a civilian rescue service, with everything that implies for work relations and management methods. With all due respect (and we do have respect) for the IDF, the fire service isn’t the IDF!”

Ankori also threatened that if certain decisions which the union views as violating its agreement with the Public Security Ministry aren’t rescinded, “we’ll have no choice but to exercise the legal and organizational rights at our disposal, which won’t benefit the service’s operations, and that’s a pity.”

Separately, all of the service’s district spokesmen announced Tuesday that they are halting their services. Until now, regular firefighters have volunteered as district spokesmen. But with the explosion in the number of media outlets in recent years, the volunteers found that their work as spokesmen was taking up much time of their time than they had bargained for. Consequently, they are demanding that these positions become paid ones.