Russia continues the reform of its fire service with an investment of 6.8 billion dollars

Published:  11 July, 2013

The Russian fire service is on the verge of big changes due to the recent adoption of new federal state program Fire Safety in Russia until 2017, which is being driven by the Russian Government.

According to Vladimir Puchkov, the new head of Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, which exercises control over the fire service, the total funding of the program will be 204 billion rubles (USD$6,8 billion).

It is hoped that the successful implementation of the program will result in a 27.5% reduction in fire deaths  to 8700 fatalities by 2017, while the number of fires is expected to decrease by 8% to 153,400.

The implementation of the program is envisaged to significantly raise the effectiveness of fire departments and improve fire prevention measures. The program involves a significant increase in the purchase of fire vehicles to fight large forest and landscape fires. Funding will also be increased for more smoke-jumpers.

The program involves the establishment of infrastructure for voluntary fire departments in order to protect remote regions and economic facilities.  Multi-functional fire stations and fire testing laboratories for the protection of important economic facilities will also be built, with the aim of researching new extinguishing technologies including robotics, heavy aircraft, communications and monitoring systems, as well as early fire warning systems.

The program will fund the construction of 37 new multipurpose fire stations and the refurbishment of 136 multipurpose fire stations in 58 regions of Russia.

According to Vladimir Puchkov the program will be implemented in two stages. During the first stage, which is scheduled for 2013-2014, there are plans for the establishment of the volunteer fire protection service. This phase also includes the establishment of the training and technical base for firefighters, and the development of new fire detection and evacuation systems.

In the second phase (2015-2017), the government plans to improve the experimental aspects of research and development and educational institutions realed to firefighting, as well as introduce modern fire equipment including aviation capability. It is planned that purchases of the latter will be under the personal control of the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Dmitry Medvedev commented: ‘We plan to significantly increase the aviation group for the fire service, bringing the number of aircraft, such as the Be-200 up to 12. Currently we have six such aircraft. Overall, there are about 100 firefighting aircraft in our country.’

State plans envisage that by 2017 the level of fire risk in Russia will reach that of developed countries.

According to developers of the program, it will prevent the deaths of more than 28,000 people. It will also reduce the economic costs of fires to 44.1 billion rubles (EUR 1,1 billion).

However, the program also contains some controversial measures, one of which is a significant reduction of staff, whilst at the same time increasing the efficiency of remaining firefighters. The latter measure has already sparked concerns in the service.
 
According to some sources close to the Government, during the next several years up to 20% of Russian firefighting positions may disappear. This would be equivalent to about 40,000 people.

Vladimir Puchkov says firefighters should not be concerend, however, as these cuts will mainly affect managerial staff.

Vladimir Puchkov commented: ‘There is a plan that has been approved by the president of Russia. It involves optimisation of the number of firefighters, military personnel and federal civil servants. We are already implementing this plan, which is reflected by the fact that the number of troops have already been reduced by four times. The volume of cuts in the fire service will be about 30%, and will mainly affect officials and managers of the Ministry, while the number of average firefighters, on the contrary, will increase.’

In spite of the assurances of the Minister, most of Russian firefighters do not believe the promises of the Minister, fearing that the reform of the Russian fire service will be similar to those which have already been implemented in the national army and the police, and which resulted in mass reductions (40%) of some of the best officers.

Russian analysts believe that although the adoption of the long-awaited state program is necessary for the national fire service, the situation will remain difficult despite the reforms announced by former Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, who was recently appointed as a defence minister.

Analysts also agree that despite the program’s approval, the future prospects for the Russian fire service still remain vague. The recent departure of Sergei Shoigu, the influential Russian politician who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the main initiator of the reform, could significantly slow down their implementation.

In addition, despite all the measures to combat forest fires taken by the former minister, the current situation on the field still remains extremely difficult.

In 2012, according to independent experts, more than 1.5 million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire, which is ten times higher than the official figures.

According to Alexey Yaroshenko, forest expert of Greenpeace Russia, Russian authorities have concealed the true extent of fires, which last year were disastrous. Their scale nevertheless was not as catastrophic as in 2010, when they destroyed thousands of homes and caused the deaths of dozens of people. In that year, burning peatbogs in the Moscow region resulted in the Russian capital Moscow being covered by a layer of toxic smog for days.

One of the causes is imperfect Russian legislation in the field of wild land fire protection.

According to Sergei Mikheyev, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies and one of the main Russian experts in the field of fire safety, the cause lies in a too-liberal Russian Forest Code, which, according to him, was adopted by the Government with the aimof reducing public spend on forest protection, as well as to shift the primary responsibility for fire protection from the state to the owners of forest land and tenants.

During Soviet times fire safety in Russian forests was provided by 70,000 rangers and about 130,000 of other forestry workers. Since that time this figure has declined by 12,000 people. At the same time the effiency of their activities has been weakened by the addition of other responsibilities.

According to ecologists, the blame for forest fires lies with the national Government, which destroyed the Soviet system of forest protection and reduced funding for this sector.

In general, the current situation in Russia's fire service remains complex, also due to the absence of so-called departmental fire services, which existed during the Soviet times.

During Soviet times all major industrial facilities and even the army and the police had their own fire departments. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in cuts and in the transfer of powers to the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES), an organisation that is renowned for its inefficiency.

Lack of departmental fire services has already led to a number of major fires in Russia, in particular a recent fire at a naval base near Kolomna, which led to the dismissal of a number of naval commanders, by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Certain measures are gradually being implemented, however. The total number of volunteers in Russia’s fire department has increased to 660,000 and they, according to statistics from Vladimir Puchkov' office, deal with 10% of all the fires in the country.

  • Operation Florian

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