Economic downturn hits fire departments

By SOPHIE MCCARRICK – [email protected]

With debts totalling more than €1 million, many Algarve Bombeiros associations are confronted with the threat of extinction or temporary closure until financial aid is provided, placing the region at risk of having little or no emergency support assistance.

Currently, there are 18 fire departments throughout the Algarve, however at a conference titled “Bombeiros in the Algarve: The Future?” held on April 21 in Faro, Vice President of the League of Portuguese Firefighters (Liga dos Bombeiros Portugueses), Rodeia Machado, said that “due to the very complicated economic situation the Algarve is facing, if there is no significant financial support for its fire departments, there will soon be dismissals of personnel at the various bombeiros’ associations,” adding that he found the situation “very worrying”.

Rodeia revealed that due to cuts made by INEM (National Institute of Medical Emergency), it now only pays between 30-40% of the costs that Bombeiros take on when attending to an emergency.

He said: “A proposal has been made by the Federação dos Bombeiros do Algarve to the INEM, but has not yet received a response. The proposal should be treated with urgency as it includes amendments to resolve the situation, including the upgrade of price.

“This is a problem that threatens to become unsustainable on a national level,” he concluded.  

Teodósio Rocha Carrilho, President of the Federação dos Bombeiros do Algarve and of the Associação dos Bombeiros Voluntários de Lagoa, in an interview with Barlavento newspaper, said: “With the exception of the four municipal fire brigades, in Faro, Tavira, Olhão and Loulé, who have no responsibility over their finances, I can say that the debt of Algarve Bombeiros associations is more than €1 million.”

With debts ever mounting and a grave lack of funding, the Bombeiros are in need of desperate financial assistance.

Teodósio Carrilho explained that the main problem is the lack of funds, which leaves associations unable to purchase fuel for their vehicles, in turn jeopardising the amount of relief given to those in need.

EN125 problem

With the tolls on the A22 and the summer season on the way, the EN125 is also expected to become a problem for the Bombeiros. “This road was previously known in Europe as the ‘road of death’ and will probably return to that with the arrival of summer,” he said, bringing focus to the fact that the Bombeiros are volunteers and, therefore, may not be available 24 hours a day, especially with the lack of support.

Teodósio Carrilho said: “The civil society gives us very little support, except for the foreign community of the Algarve who has a different outlook about what we do.”

The Humanitarian Voluntary Bombeiros Association of Silves (Associação Humanitária de Bombeiros Voluntários de Silves) also held a meeting on April 23, where it was discussed that due to serious financial difficulties faced by the association, it is a possibility that their struggles could lead to the association closing its doors before the summer.

Financial problems for the association worsened after a sharp fall in revenue caused by changes in the funding for the transport of patients, following changes imposed by the Ministry of Health in 2011.

Funds received for the transport of patients to Barlavento Hospital in Portimão fell more than 50%, from approximately €18,000 to less than €7,000 monthly. Failing to find a solution to the financial difficulties facing the institution, including the payment of wages to 33 employees (firefighters and personnel administration) as well as the purchase of fuel for vehicles, the Silves Bombeiros association will be compromised as early as the end of this month leaving no other option but to close the doors until aid is given.

This summer, the Algarve will have a further helicopter on hand for fighting forest fires, which will be available for intervention between June 15 and the end of September. In total, the region’s fire protection emergency assistance will count on three helicopters, based in Monchique, Loulé and Cachopo (Tavira), 448 firefighters and 116 vehicles.

Abel Gomes, the operational district commander of Faro, when asked if he thought the aid that will be made available throughout the summer for the Algarve was enough, said: “We can never predict whether the existing resources will be sufficient, however, our firefighting team is not alone and, if necessary, will be reinforced by our neighbours in the adjacent districts, such as the Alentejo.”