The State Comptroller's report on the fire service is attracting great public attention in light of the Carmel blaze last week. But the reality described in the report tells of even greater catastrophes.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss focuses in his report on the possibility that the fire service would literally collapse in a war in which the home front was attacked with a barrage of missiles and rockets. The rescue services would face a number of multiple-casualty events simultaneously, and would not be able to pool forces from the entire country into one area, as was done in the Carmel.
The comptroller describes the fire service as the weak link of the home front, but reading the report leaves one feeling this is a polite understatement. The report reveals gaps all along the line: not enough firefighters, outdated and malfunctioning rescue equipment, antiquated fire trucks. The administration grew while the actual field teams shrank.
Firefighter training is flawed, and there's no possibility of real training at the firefighting school. The firefighting commission does not have an operational headquarters, or an appropriate command and control structure. Its radio network is outdated and the computer network simply does not exist. Coordination with IDF Home Front Command is also weak.
The practical meaning of this all is that the fire service can collapse completely when put to the test, putting civilian lives at risk as a result. The comptroller, for once, doesn't pull any punches: The situation is intolerable, he writes. The state of the fire service is the weak link that could endanger all rescue operations. And the firefighters are a critical link in the chain indeed.
A sally of missiles into densely populated areas in Israel could start fires in city centers and bring down high-rise buildings. In such a situation, the discussion of firefighting planes that occupied so much of the media over the past week will become completely irrelevant. Even the most effective deployment of the rest of the recently and significantly upgraded rescue services will be of little use if Magen David Adom paramedics wont' be able to enter the scene because the fire will be too strong and there won't be enough fire trucks to put it out.
It's like trying to start an operation without an anesthesiologist. The particular case of the Prison Service cadets' bus and the question of why firefighters weren't sent to the scene of the very small initial fire near Isfiya require a separate probe, but the comptroller's report provides for harrowing reading.
It should keep every one of us awake at night - especially those of us living in the centers of large cities. This report has its roots in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War. The comptroller's harsh report of the functioning of the home front in that war, released in 2007, prompted him to keep a close eye on the home front's situation ever since.
In that first round, he spoke about a major snafu and about a failed line of reasoning. The new report reads as if there wasn't any war, or at least as if the Interior Ministry - which had failed back then as well - didn't bring itself up to date on its lessons.
Predictably, the politicians yesterday responded with obedient praise for the comptroller and promises to get better. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's been behaving over the past week as if following a textbook for leaders in crisis, promised to implement the conclusions of the report forthwith.
Interior Minister Eli Yishay rushed to assure all that the report clears him from any blame. The minister appears to be applying, at best, a very selective reading.
It's true that Yishai began working on the issue in May, after a very sharp warning from the comptroller, but since July's government resolution on expanding the firefighting budget, which was never implemented, the minister gave up.
It's not a pleasant thing to say, but after the funerals and eulogies are over, the Carmel fire will be last week's news. What remains are the two key questions: Will the political leadership break with tradition and actually listen to the warnings from the State Comptroller? And will there be political fallout from the poor functioning of the last two governments, that of Likud and that of Kadima, on the firefighting front?
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