Hundreds of bombeiros from all over Portugal recently travelled north in order to join fellow fire fighters in damning the support they received from the government during last summer’s devastating fires. Duarte Caldeira, President of the Liga de Bombeiros Portugueses (LBP), spoke at the National fire fighters Day held in Viseu, giving an emotional speech, listing the government’s many shortfalls, which he felt exacerbated the destruction caused by the blazes.
He announced that the National Fire Service refuses to accept responsibility for what happened last year and said it cannot be blamed if more fires break out this year. He lays the blame almost entirely on lack of support from the government and has stated that again it has failed to take the necessary precautions. “It is unacceptable that bombeiros are held responsible for mistakes that politicians have made,” he stated. “The way that some people in power dishonestly and offensively used the National Fire Service as a group to shoulder the blame will not be accepted again! We will not be silenced. We might not have the equipment to get around, but our collective voice will travel the nation,” he shouted.
The Minister of Internal Administration, Figueiredo Lopes, attended the event and did concede that some precautionary measures promised last year by the government had not materialised. “The bombeiros must fight fires, but when the outcome doesn’t seem optimistic, they must defend the safety of their men. I can imagine how traumatic it can be sometimes, so I will always be here to defend criticisms made towards the fire service.” However, he did not agree with the accusations made by Caldeira. “It is not just the government’s fault. It is the local câmaras, the property owners, the bombeiros – everybody is to blame and has to take some responsibility,” he said.
According to government records, after last year’s devastating fires, the bombeiros’ subsidy rose by 12.7 per cent. On top of that a further 4.6 million euros has been invested in new fire stations, with an additional 1.6 million, towards S.O.S centres.
Though Caldeira admits this money has been received, he claims it still falls short of the amount they will need for fire fighting equipment if Portugal ever sees a repeat of the fires. He went on to say that the PS (Socialist Party) had initially planned to increase the number of local intervention groups, which would have made an immense difference to the spoliation of Portugal, had this plan been in place before last summer. However, since the PSD/CDS-PP were elected, “all the plans have been forgotten and the needs of the bombeiros and potential fire victims – ignored”.
“Our equipment has not been replaced for three years. Men from some headquarters still have to travel around in old vehicles, which break down all the time and become increasingly expensive to repair. We also need an increase of full time fire fighters from 8am to 8pm, but for that we need more funding,” Caldeira explained. The National Fire Service says public awareness of its case has risen and this may lead to greater government support in the event of more fires this summer.