The meeting was organized in the framework of the EPSU firefighters’ network and Firefighters’ Charter by FP-CGIL, with support from the European Commission. It was prompted by the dramatic and deadly forest fires that took pace in recent years in a number of Mediterranean countries. Firefighters from Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Croatia and Slovenia participated, along with a scientific expert and guests from the UK FBU and EPSU Brussels office.
The meeting discussion covered the following issues:
The organization of the firefighters’ service
Firefighters carry out a public service, which like education or health perform, should be not-for-profit and geared to meeting the needs of citizens. The meeting discussed changes in the organization of the fire service in the different countries, stressing the neutrality of the fire service and the need for adequate resources. Firefighters are workers like other workers and trade union rights need to be respected.
Health and safety
Firefighters face many inherent dangers, so it is even more important that health and safety standards and practices are the best they can be. Firefighters are not ‘beyond working time rules’ or other employment protection. Examples were given of serious health and safety problems, illustrating the need for better risk assessment, prevention and monitoring policies to tackle for example, professional diseases and stress levels. The firefighting team, not only the individual firefighter, needs to be the focus of attention. Staffing problems cannot, and should not, be solved through endless overtime. The EU health and safety framework needs to focus on firefighters.
Education and training
This was identified as a key concern, both in relation to health and safety, and also, more widely in relation to the wide-ranging demands of firefighters’ jobs. Training needs to follow the tasks that are to be done, and to learn from experiences. In the context of the EU, the meeting called for more worker firefighter involvement in the civil protection mechanism and related cross-border training activities that are part of it.
While more can be done to improve the responses to forest fires, EU action is necessary to prevent deliberate fires being made. An EU directive obliging governments to operate a land registration system and to stop profits being generated through burning land is needed.
…and flooding and other disasters…
Participants suggested a follow-up concerning the EC Communication on manmade and natural disasters. The role and potential impact on workers of dealing with such disasters is not a part of the Communication – and it needs to be.
A second meeting is planned in May, in Madrid and more information form the project will be available shortly from the organizers.
The project will be followed up in the EPSU firefighters’ network, which meets on 23 September in Brussels.