Knesset Pushes Through Fire Service Reform Bill

Better late than never for parliamentary measure.

After a 12-year delay, the Knesset yesterday confirmed the preliminary reading of a bill calling to implement the conclusions of the Ginosar committee on the fire service, delivered in 1998.

The bill, privately sponsored by MK David Azoulay of Shas, specifically calls to transform firefighting in Israel from a municipal service provided by local authorities into one national service. It is meant to replace the current firefighting law, which dates back to 1959.

Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai said in the Knesset yesterday that his ministry intends to present a government-sponsored bill in parallel, but the move is being delayed because the Finance Ministry won't authorize it.

"If the government brings forward a bill following the massive fire and following my own bill, this will be our reward," said Azoulay. "If the government doesn't do what it's supposed to do, this is what we're here for," he added.

Azoulay said he decided to bring the bill to vote immediately, despite his own opposition to many of its clauses, because of the Carmel fire. He said he hopes to change some of the problematic clauses when the bill goes before a committee.

MKs Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) and Haim Katz (Likud ) said yesterday that they would oppose the bill because it bans firefighters from unionizing and going on strike, similar to the policies in place for soldiers and police officers. They refrained from voting against the bill, however, and it passed with 39 MKs voting in favor, and none abstaining or against.