If there is a fire in Pedro Martínez, in the heart of the eastern mountains of the Guadix region, or another occurs in Zagra, in the west of the Loja region of Granada, only two firefighters will be able to approach to put out the flames, taking about 40 minutes to arrive. This is the situation faced by two of the main regions of the province of Granada due to the lack of investment that causes the fire service to be underfunded and that municipalities and professionals demand more means to fight fires and avoid these areas are unprotected. According to the numbers of inhabitants and staff, these regions have two firefighters on duty for 50,000 inhabitants. A figure very far from the ratio of firefighters per population recommended by the European Union, which is one for every 1,000 people, while the firefighters themselves recommend that there be at least three people per service.
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The fight against fires in urban areas in the province of Granada has two different organizations. One, known as the Provincial Fire Extinction Agency (APEI), dependent exclusively on the Provincial Council and which supports localities with less than 20,000 inhabitants; and the other, called the Provincial Firefighters Consortium, which has a mixed participation between the Provincial Council itself and the municipalities it supports and in which more than 20,000 inhabitants live. A services division that is the source of the conflict that currently exists when it comes to working on fire fighting. Because the APEI is the most powerful in terms of resources and staff, and the Consortium is unable to provide the support that regions such as Guadix and Loja need. Although the Provincial Council admits the “inequality” of some areas, it remembers that its area of competence is not that of the older populations.
But the CSIF union maintains that the provincial system means that there are parks in which the minimum services are only two personnel, while in others there are no similar problems. A scenario that is even worse when the working conditions of professionals are taken into account depending on whether they belong to the APEI or are members of the Consortium. While the firefighters who work in the APEI charge around 2,000 euros net per month without guards for belonging to the C1 civil servants, those who work in the Consortium earn an average of 1,400 euros net because they are in the C2 category. A difference of almost 600 euros that makes the seconds feel treated in an unbalanced way.
A financing problem
However, the main problem they face in parks such as Guadix and Loja is that of not being able to have an optimal service to be able to fight fires. Juan Manuel Roldán, CSIF spokesperson in the fire department, starts from the premise that this division between organizations is causing “first class citizens and second class citizens”. Some municipalities such as Armilla (with more than 20,000 inhabitants and therefore, served by the Consortium), which does not have a fire station, receives an economic contribution from the Provincial Council of about 200,000 euros per year that it does not need because this municipality is covered by the south park of Granada capital. Others like Guadix, which also belongs to the Consortium despite having less than 20,000 inhabitants and has its own park, barely receives 600,000 euros a year from the Provincial Council that only covers 60% of the annual budget. Something that means that in Guadix they can only have two fire extinguishers per service and Armilla has all those that the Granada capital park has, which is around six troops on average per intervention.
In addition, what happens with Guadix is an anomaly because two years ago it dropped below 20,000 inhabitants, so the regulations would force the Provincial Council to take over its park and include it within the APEI. However, that has not yet happened, so it is the City Council that puts most of the money that the service has to manage each year. The mayor of Accitan, Jesús Llorente (PP), recalls that due to the population, “Guadix, right now, does not have to have competition in the fire fighting service.” For the councilor, it is an issue that requires reordering the accounts so that municipalities like Armilla, which do not need investment for firefighters because they do not have a park, do not receive that money and localities like Guadix do, which need that investment. Llorente affirms that “the fire station not only has personnel, but there are other expenses such as electricity or water that must be paid”.
“If the Provincial Council paid us 100% of the amount of the service, we would not mind continuing to maintain it, but the reality is that what it has to do is assume it.” The first mayor assures that the technicians of the Guadix City Council and those of the Provincial Council have been talking for a long time to try to reach an agreement that satisfies the parties. “I hope I don’t have to go to court.” Above all, because right now there are only 14 firefighters to serve a region that has about 50,000 inhabitants, which allows there to only be two per shift. “If a colleague has to watch out for the truck, the other has to put out the flames by himself, but that’s impossible. What ends up happening is that service becomes very difficult. To this we must add that sometimes the towns are far away and it takes time to get there, ”explains Juan Manuel Roldán from CSIF. Fortunately, says the mayor of Guadix, the situation is being saved because “the firefighters are professionals and when there are fires they even come to those who are not on duty.”
A “complex” matter
But if Guadix’s situation is bad, Loja is not much better. In this case, the municipality of Loja does meet the number of inhabitants to have its own park and belong to the Consortium, but it receives 300,000 euros per year from the Provincial Council. The capital of the Loja region has more than 20,000 residents, a figure that more than doubled if all the municipalities that comprise it are added. What makes the same thing happen in Loja as in the hilly lands and that there are only two firefighters for almost 50,000 inhabitants in each extinction service. “We see that while the Provincial Council has about 60 troops for the entire province, in Loja or Guadix there are only 14. Therefore, the APEI can have three firefighters per service and in these regions there are only two,” laments Juan Manuel Roldán of CSIF .
“We believe that those who have to take action on the matter are the municipalities to pressure the Diputación and absorb or keep those services and if not, that they put the necessary means and resources for that to happen,” adds the union spokesman. Precisely from the City Council of Loja they promoted a motion last July to demand that the provincial entity end the inequality in the provision of the service. The deputy mayor of Loja, Joaquín Ordoñez (PP), points out that “according to the data collected there is a total lack of equal contribution from the Granada Provincial Council for the service according to the park. The difference amounts to 67 euros of investment by the provincial institution in operating expenses between one fire station and another per inhabitant ”. While the Provincial Council invests 12 euros for a citizen in Loja, Alhama receives almost 80 for belonging to the APEI.
“This lack of criteria means that there is a great difference in personal resources in each fire station in our province, both in terms of the number of personnel and their remuneration.” Therefore, they ask that investment be increased or that they take control of the parks of those municipalities that have less than 50,000 inhabitants so that other towns such as Baza or Almuñécar are also covered because they have the same provincial investment problems as Guadix and Loja, except that they have a superior staff and can have three personnel in their minimum services.
Although the current complaint comes from CSIF, other unions such as CCOO or UGT also agree. In fact, Benjamín Capilla, from CCOO, goes one step further and clarifies that from his union section they claim that there is a minimum staffing of 5 firefighters and not 3. In addition, he believes that the Diputación should create a unitary provincial service. “It is the most optimal from the point of view of operability and professionalism.” David Castillo, fire chief of Loja and a UGT union member also endorses the opinion of the rest of his colleagues.
Regarding the controversy, sources from the Provincial Council recall that their powers are only for those municipalities that have a population of less than 20,000 people. “What happens is that these larger towns are then compensated through material investments because they serve their entire region.” The deputy in charge, José Giralte, admits that it is a “complex” matter and that in some places “inequalities” may occur. “A huge effort is being made to increase funding in recent years,” he stresses.