NEWS

Fire service caught short by tough budget cuts

The number of wildfires in Greece is up by some 40 percent compared to last year but funding for the fire service has dropped by almost the same amount, leaving firefighters dangerously exposed, as the death of 28-year-old Christos Chaidas while combating a blaze west of Athens last week indicated.

Kathimerini understands that 20 percent of some 3,500 vehicles used to fight fires are not in operation because of lack of funds to service them. Fire service sources said vehicles? tires have not been changed since 2008 and that many of the fire trucks are only kept in circulation because of donations.

Funding for the fire service was cut by 30 percent in 2011 and another 15 percent in March this year.

The cutbacks are also affecting waterbombing planes. Kathimerini understands that one in three of the Canadair aircraft at the disposal of the fire service cannot fly. Seven of the 21 planes are grounded as there are not enough resources or spare parts to prepare them for flight.

The fire service also has five helicopters, whose operation was blocked for several years because of legal wrangling about their maintenance. This issue has now been settled but the fire service cannot find anyone to fly them as its pilots? licenses to fly these aircraft has expired. The government has also hired five private helicopters to help with firefighting.

In terms of personnel, 1,906 seasonal firefighters have been hired but their appointments were only approved on June 15 and they have yet to be fully deployed. Also serving in the 14,000-strong force are 4,000 firefighters who have been hired on five-year contracts. However, 600 of these hires have yet to finish their training. Also, based on the terms of their hiring, these firefighters cannot work nights or weekends due to public spending restrictions.