A friend of IsraelEMS, Dave, asked us to re-post a letter he wrote on May 24, 2010
You don’t see a lot of firemen in Israel. With all of our various crack rescue and security teams available at a moment’s notice, it seems like the fire department is the forgotten arm of the country’s safety wing.
Growing up the US, you see fire stations all over the place, and visits to the firehouse are part of the elementary school curriculum. Here, most people would be hard pressed to tell you where the nearest fire station is.
Since most homes are built of stone, it drastically decreases the chances of fire – leaving the hot, dry summer and the advent of forest fires as the firemen’s busy time of the year.
But there’s one other day, when the obscurity of the Israeli fireman is unveiled to reveal him and her in all their splendor – Lag Ba’omer.
The celebratory evening of bonfires is the firemen’s Super Bowl – the day when they are rightfully seen as the heroes they are.
“This is our night,” Haifa firefighter Shimon Lahav told Ha’aretz on the eve of the holiday which began on Saturday night. “Suddenly everything we’ve dreaded the whole year happens – in an organized way. Bonfires everywhere, with the danger that they’ll spread.”
Aside from making sure over enthusiastic children or drunk revelrers don’t injure themselves in the huge fires tht are lit throughout the country, the firefighters’ greatest fear on this holiday is bonfires that are not put out properly.
“Such bonfires, with the wind the next morning after the people have left, can spread and cause fire and disaster,” Lahav says.
“On a visit in San Francisco I sat with a fellow firefighter and talked about work. I told him we had 35 firefighters in Haifa in charge of some 6,000 outbreaks a year. He turned white and couldn’t understand how we do it. In the United States, 12 firemen are dispatched to the smallest incident in which people are trapped,” Lahav says.
“With us it’s five at best, two or three at worst. So slowly people are beginning to understand that we’re the only sector that isn’t fighting for money, but we ask for more people because ultimately it affects our ability to save lives.”
Firefighters’ greatest fear on this holiday is bonfires that are not put out properly.
“Such bonfires, with the wind the next morning after the people have left, can spread and cause fire and disaster,” Lahav said.
Walking out this morning along the access paths and open spaces behind home in my neighborhood, it looks like the aftermath of a war scene: smoldering fires, scorched earth, the smell of burnt material of every kind.
The country’s least environmentally friendly holiday is over for another year, and the firefighters can return to their obscurity for another year – at least until the first summer forest fire ignites.