Reforms urged on disaster anniversary eve
29 July 2005
BRUSSELS — Renewed concerns over Belgium’s emergency response capabilities resurfaced on Friday when the nation’s fire brigade said it would be unable to cope in a large-scale disaster if its current structure remains.
The confession was offered by the Flanders fire brigade association BVV, its French and German-language equivalent FRCSPB and the association of fire brigade officers (Beprobel).
It also came almost one year after the Ghislenghien (Gellingen) gas disaster in which 24 people were killed by a massive explosion on 30 July 2004.
The Belgian fire brigade associations said they were pleased with proposals unveiled by the Paulus Commission which was set up after the disaster to push through reforms of the nation’s civil protection authorities.
“But this reform plan is already being obstructed in Wallonian municipalities and, moreover, cannot be implemented without extra financial resources,” the BVV said.
In an interim report, the commission advised for a re-division of the fire brigade into three levels, abandoning the present municipal structure, newspaper ‘De Standaard’ reported on Friday.
“The Flemish Association of Cities and Municipalities has declared to be in accord with the base principles, but certain Wallonian mayors don’t want to lose ‘their’ fire brigade services,” commandant Marc Gilbert of the FRCSPB said.
The BVV has subsequently refused to rule out industrial action, which would be targeted at the mayors who are obstructing the reforms.
A spokeswoman for Interior Minister Patrick Dewael said reforms are underway and must be launched by the start of next year. She could not confirm if the reforms would proceed if not every municipality was in agreement.
It is not yet known how much the reforms will cost. More information will be known in September, but fire brigades have said six full-time staff at every barracks are needed for the service to be prepared at every moment.
Meanwhile, fire alarms will be heard at every fire brigade barracks across the country for two minutes on Saturday starting at 8.58am, the moment of the explosion at Ghislenghien.
A total of 24 people were killed and 132 injured in the explosion last year and a commemorative ceremony will be held at the site of the blast on Saturday.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Belgian news