FERNANDO CURTO, president of Associação Nacional de Bombeiros Profissionais (ANBP), the national association of professional firefighters, has spoken out over his fears that in 2005 the threat of forest fires could be worse. In a recent interview, Curto said that, with just a few months to go before the “danger period”, crucial fire prevention measures have still not been put into place. The fear is that poor organisation in the Serviço Nacional de Bombeiros e Protecção Civil, the national service for firefighters and civil protection, combined with the drought, could lead to a crisis situation, worse than that caused by the forest fires of 2003, during which 400,000 hectares burned. Speaking to Público newspaper, Curto said: “Above all, we are faced with a non-existent prevention policy. For example, the clearing of forest debris should have started already, along with the creation of entry tracks into the forests, but, so far, none of this has been done.” This lack of response, he puts down to the absence of an overall strategy for coping with disaster situations, while measures announced by Santana Lopes, during the run up to his recent election defeat, were “just campaign talk”. With regard to what precise steps should be taken, Curto said Portugal should already have organised air support for firefighting and prevention, following the example of Spain, which recently acquired 32 aircraft specifically for the purpose, and Greece, which has also given high priority to air firefighting. In his opinion, this would be one of the most valuable measures, but he pointed out that “planes and helicopters will be useless, if we don’t have personnel properly trained to act on the ground, which is where the fires are effectively fought.”
System run on a volunteer basis
Lamenting the fact that there was, to the contrary of other European nations, “no culture of safety” in Portugal, Curto said: “It is urgent that legislation is enacted to organise, in a sustained way, the introduction of professionals in emergency-aid in Portugal.” The system is currently run very much on a volunteer basis. “It is fundamental that, in the space of 3-5 years, 50 per cent of the fire service should be staffed by professionals,” he said.
Curto also added that much of the disorganisation among emergency services was due to a dependence on several different administrative bodies: “The ANBP has always advocated that the whole situation of emergency services in Portugal should be answerable to a single ministry – the Ministry of Internal Administration. How can you ask efficiency from such an important sector, if this same sector is dependant on the Secretary of State for Local Administration, the Ministry of Internal Administration and the municipal authorities, all at the same time?”