Fire service concerns hotting up

Despite concerns that high temperatures would spark wildfires across the country, the fire service had few major blazes to deal with but there could be more testing days ahead for the force as seasonal firefighters are threatening to go on strike next month over low wages. A fire in Keratea, southeast of Athens, one near Volos, central Greece, and two in Messenia in the Peloponnese were soon brought under control yesterday. However, the Civil Protection Authority has warned that there is a very high possibility of more wildfires today. So far this year, there have been fewer fires compared to 2008. In May, there were 473 blazes as opposed to 645 in 2008. In June, there were 1,236 fires compared to 1,400 and up to July 18, there had been 842 rather than 1,220 blazes. Authorities attributed this reduction mostly to the fact that this summer has been more humid than last year. But things could become trickier next month for the fire service, which has almost 10,000 full-time employees and another 5,500 season workers, due to a planned protest by the latter. Seasonal firefighters are unhappy that their overtime pay has been cut by almost half to 3.40 euros per hour and that there are no opportunities for permanent jobs in the service. Fire service sources told Sunday’s Kathimerini that salaries have been cut because the force is under pressure to reduce its spending. But the union representing the seasonal employees has indicated that its members could go on strike unless the situation is rectified. «A climate of workplace harmony is not helped by large debts and by the failure to deliver on the promises that have been made,» said Yiannis Stamoulis, vice president of the Union of Fire Service Officers.