Israel took a major step toward reforming its fire and rescue services Monday, with a key committee signing off on major changes to expand and upgrade the country’s firefighting capabilities.
The reforms have been a keystone initiative by the government since a massive blaze in late 2010 in the Carmel forest killed 44 people and devastated a wide swath of the Carmel mountain range near Haifa.
The bill, passed by the Knesset’s Interior Committee, will unify the fire and rescue services under a single government authority under the public security ministry and grant the body an additional NIS 1 billion over five years.
The issue of budgeting the changes had been a major bottleneck in passing the reforms, as Finance Ministry officials balked at being able to find the extra money.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) signed the multi-year firefighting system reform.
Under the agreement, firefighters will become civil servants and a thousand more firefighters will be recruited. The Public Security Ministry said the agreement will allow the purchase of better equipment and vehicles.
“We are at a historic juncture and in a completely different place from where we were 18 months ago,” said Aharonovitch. “There’s a huge upheaval. We saw the results yesterday, when the firefighting airplanes made the dramatic change (in fighting a blaze outside Jerusalem), as well as in the previous thousands of missions.”