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Cyprus

‘We can prevent many fires if we cooperate,’ says chief

Many fires are stretching the service to its limit and could have been prevented if all bodies cooperated better

By Angelos Anastasiou

THERE is a need for all social partners to cooperate in fire prevention, with the island’ most senior fireman saying that the rising number of fires in recent years is mostly due to negligence in rural areas or arson and juvenile delinquency in urban areas.

Acting Fire Service chief Marios Trangolas said that “a great part of fire monitoring is in the utilisation of our seasonal firefighters who staff fifteen rural stations.”

“However, we need to extend resources further, which is why we are in contact with the district administration in Limassol and Larnaca, focusing on areas that troubled us in the previous year,” he added.

“The dispersal will be achieved by creating two rural sub-stations, for which we have the funds, along with the contribution of the villages”, the chief said at the Fire Service headquarters in Nicosia yesterday, presenting his report for 2013.

“We are in the implementation stage of the resource dispersal plan, so that we can concentrate on quick response and arrival times at fire locations.”

According to Trangolas, 2013 was an extraordinarily busy year for the Fire Service, which received a total of 13,085 calls.

Of these, 483 were false alerts, meaning there was no need for firemen to intervene, while the rest were calls to report fires, requesting ambulances and other special incidents.

In terms of the damage caused by fires, 2013 saw a total of €9.460.303, of which €1.261.372 was for damages in rural areas and €8.198.931 in urban areas.

The total area destroyed by fires in 2013 was 32.1 square kilometers, mostly during the great fire in Chirokitia on June 19, but also in rural Limassol, Pareklisia, Anogira, Episkopi, Akourdalia, Kato Pyrgos and Trachypedoula.

The fire department acted in 276 cases of rescues from car crashes, 31 from fires – with three dead – and 264 rescued in other accidents.

A very large number of people, or 1,362, were rescued from malfunctioning elevators, for an average of 4-5 daily, Trangolas said.

The chief said that the fire service’s manpower was stretched to its limit, at relatively high cost, to address issues that arise from poor or negligent maintenance by building owners or caretakers.

Comparing monthly statistical data from 2008 to 2013 on total rural fires, Trangolas said that, with the exception of February, July and August, all months recorded increases.

On average, the number of fires increased last year by 25.56 per cent compared from 2012, with a total of 8,605 cases versus 6,799 – with 5,536 rural fires in 2013, up from 4,194 in 2012.

Explaining this year’s increase, Trangolas offered the changes in weather conditions and long drought periods, while the decrease in February 2013 was the result of higher rainfall compared to February 2012.

“July and August typically see fewer fires”, Trangolas said, “basically due to the holiday period where rural activity is decreased, even though August for the last two years has seen the largest fires in Cyprus.”

In all, 8,605 fires broke out in 2013, of which 5,536 were in rural and 3,069 in urban areas.

October saw the most fires at 1,353, with 1,139 in rural and 214 in urban areas. In May, 1,024 fires broke out – 541 rural and 483 urban – while in April, 949 fires were put out nationwide, 464 in rural and 485 in urban areas. The number of fires in November was 912, with 726 in rural areas and 186 urban.

Commenting on the wide discrepancy in the number of fires between rural and urban areas in October and November, Trangolas said that the very low rainfall during this period offered the opportunity to residents in rural areas to burn stubble – the main cause of the rural fires. Further causes are burning garbage in public and arson or intentional fires, mainly in strong winds, especially at night, when stations are understaffed.

Presenting monthly data on rural fires from May to November, Trangolas said that 541 fires broke out in May, of which the Fire Service considers 30 to have been caused by cigarette burns, 46 by arson and 373 by intentional fires and stubble burning.

August saw 396 rural fires, of which 34 were caused by cigarettes, 20 by arson and 276 by intentional fires and stubble burning.

The number of rural fires in October was much higher at 1,139, of which 27 are owed to lit cigarettes, 23 to arson and 1,020 to intentional fires and stubble burning.

In general, 92.88 per cent of rural fires is owed to human activity, and 7,12 percent is random, Trangolas said.

As regards fire locations, the fire chief singled out school buildings, where 200 fires were reported in 2013, and 301 in garbage cans, linking the figures with juvenile delinquency and stressing the need for specialised prevention programmes.

With regard to damages, the acting director reported a total of €7.96m in 2008, €14.6m in 2009, €24.3m in 2010, €9.8m in 2011, €22.67m in 2012 and €9.46m in 2013.

The fuel bill for the Fire Service reached €146,188 last year, with €82,149 used to reimburse 920 firefighters for 7,686 overtime hours from May 1 to August 15, while 993 firefighters have not yet been reimbursed for 6,297 overtime hours from August 15 to November 30.

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