Fire services go on the alert to prevent the country from going up in flames

The fire brigade has raised its state of readiness and alert throughout the country due to the current high temperatures and winds that bring a high risk of fire. This year’s firefighting plans are based on the model that was implemented over the last two years and proved effective. However, as head of the Fire Brigade Lieutenant General Panayiotis Fourlas pointed out, the years 2001 and 2002 were marked by mild weather conditions. This year, two factors are a cause for concern. The heavy rainfall over winter has favored the growth of wild grasses everywhere. Present high temperatures are drying out these grasses fast and turning them into a tinderbox. The second factor is that heavy rains have washed away much of the the mountain and forest road network. But Fourlas said that this problem was brought up early on, and orders have been given to all local fire brigade services to make a record of all the damage. Local and prefectural authorities were then informed, so that they could undertake the necessary work to restore the network. Coordination centers The basic planks of firefighting policy, which are reckoned to have had positive results, and which will be in force again this year, are: – The creation of local coordination centers in each of the country’s regions. At the same time, firefighting forces are distributed throughout the country. This enables both rapid decisions and local coordination, making for faster intervention. – The creation of on-foot firefighting patrols, this year amounting to a total of 300 permanent and 800 seasonal officers, in the regions and on the islands. Firefighters on foot are able to get closer to the source of the fire and areas that other means cannot reach. Also, such firefighters can also locate and damp down small fires that are not visible from the air or which are impassable to road vehicles. Instructors from the United States are being used to improve the training for the on-foot firefighting forces. – Structuring coordination centers in three-tier crisis management groups that operate depending on the severity of the fire. This structure has significantly reduced firefighters’ reaction times by cutting out time-consuming decision-making, while central control kicks in when a conflagration requires central coordination. – A public information and awareness-raising campaign, undertaken in collaboration with the Civil Defense General Secretariat, through the mass media and with leaflets. Due to the current risk of fire, radio and television broadcasts started again on May 10. – The establishment and operation of the Arson Squad, which has already done sterling work in previous years in locating arsonists, is also considered to be a significant factor. This year, the fire brigade has 23 Canadair firefighting planes, 24 smaller aircraft, 14 firefighting helicopters, three transport helicopters to transfer on-foot forces and two coordinating helicopters. Of course, only 20-30 percent of fire brigade activity concerns fighting fires. The fire brigade deals with every type of natural or unnatural disaster. This is reflected in the increase in the number of special rescue units (EMAK) from two to nine. But was the fire brigade mechanism strained by the number of floods this year, which often required intervention by firefighters? Fourlas replied, «It was strained, yes, but that’s why it exists. To be strained, to be tested…»