More Settlement Fire Stations to Close Amid Budget Cuts

Four fire stations in West Bank settlements will be shut down Friday morning, Israel Fire and Rescue Services announced yesterday amid ongoing budget cuts.

The stations to be closed are in Binyamin, Etzion, Karnei Shomron and Jordan Valley, each of which currently has only one firefighter on duty on a given shift. Last week two Negev fire stations were also closed - in Yeruham and Mitzpeh Ramon - which also had only one firefighter on duty at a given time.

The firefighters' campaign against the budget cuts began in the wake of the Finance Ministry's decision in August to stop providing funding for 250 fire and rescue expenses it had previously approved. Since then, firefighter representative Shimon Romach has been in constant negotiations with the ministry's budget department for additional funding.

Officials at Israel Fire and Rescue Services said international standards hold that a state should employ one firefighter for every 1,000 residents. Israel, he said, has 1,350 firefighters in total, and in some areas the ratio of residents to firefighters is tens of thousands to one. The Nahariya station, for example, is manned by two firefighters per shift, a crew expected to serve a regional population of 95,000.

Starting tomorrow, firefighters at the four stations slated to close will be transferred to nearby fire districts. Those from Karnei Shomron will be integrated into the Ariel station, those from Binyamin and the Jordan Valley will move to Ma'aleh Adumim, and the firefighters from Etzion will join the stations at Modi'in Ilit and Kiryat Arba, the settlement adjacent to Hebron.

The closure means thousands of residents of the affected settlements, as well as motorists traveling the Jordan Valley Highway, will be deprived of fire and rescue services that can arrive quickly in an emergency. Instead, many will have to wait up to half an hour for help to arrive.

"If we decided to take these steps, that means that all hope is lost," said Yoav Gadasi, chairman of the firefighters' association. "A single firefighter at a station is more vulnerable to danger. When he reaches the scene of an incident, people curse him and ask why there's only one fireman, and where all the equipment is," he said. "We are calling on the prime minister to intervene, because if he doesn't now, he'll have to intervene when there is a disaster."