The convulsive legislature of PP and Citizens in the Region of Murcia has left a trail of dismissals and substitutions behind it in recent months, and of fitting pieces in the different ministries of the regional Government forced by the exit and entry of councilors after the frustrated motion of censure by PSOE and Ciudadanos, which ended with the integration of wayward deputies from Vox in the regional Executive. The Emergency Department has not been an exception, with five different directors in this legislature, three general directors (Pablo Ruiz Palacios, Antonio Luis Mula and Fulgencio Perona) and two managers of the Fire and Rescue Extinction Consortium (CEIS), Francisco Javier Gil and Veronica Lopez. With the dismissal of Antonio Sánchez Lorente (Citizens) for health reasons from the Ministry of Transparency, the powers of Emergencies began to swell the tasks of the councilor Antonio Luengo (PP), in the Department of Water, Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Environment Ambient.
“It is an image of what the Murcian Executive is concerned about for the safety of a million and a half people in the Region. Emergencies is a ministry that has served as a bargaining chip for the pact with Citizens, a window to be able to filter people, ”says Fernando Moreno, socialist spokesman for Emergencies in the Regional Assembly. “That is why neither in the Ministry nor in the Consortium of Fire Extinguishing and Rescue Service (CEIS) in the Region have there been people directing who know the matter”, adds the parliamentarian.
The fire declared on Saturday, August 27 in the Sierra Larga de Jumilla due to the impact of a latent lightning strike was considered extinguished last Thursday after the intervention of a hundred emergency personnel and five helicopters, two of them from Castilla La Mancha , who were working all night on their extinction. The affected area amounts to 410 hectares and the provisional perimeter is 27 kilometers.
The fall of lightning during last Friday’s electrical storm in the area was the cause of the fire, which originated on the north face of Paraje Los Cantaores, and which was fanned by the wind that was in the area. A huge column of smoke was formed, which made it necessary to activate Level 2 of the Infomur Plan, which implies taking extraordinary measures, including the request for reinforcement brigades and resources from other communities, as well as those from the UME, that the PP described as a “pharaonic whim” when Zapatero created it.
“A little later, the UME”
The lack of coordination between the regional Executive and the Government Delegation left Jumilla this Saturday without the intervention of the UME (Military Emergency Unit). At 6:36 p.m. the first request for intervention was made from the regional government, and the request was repeated half an hour later, according to regional government sources.
Sources from the Government Delegation, however, assure that the procedure was not authorized at any time, although an operation of three agents that is activated by default to assess the situation and the means did leave the Bétera base (Valencia). that you have to move. “But never came to Jumilla.” The request, the same sources continue, was assessed as “premature” by the Ministry of the Interior, since “neither from the data provided nor from the AEMET forecasts, which ruled out that the weather conditions could spread the fire, it seemed necessary to activate the UME”. Something that they ended up confirming from the regional government to the director of Civil Protection in the early hours of August 28.
“As soon as something happens in the region, we are immediately pulling the UME because if the situation gets out of hand, you can always say that these troops could have come earlier, but what we have are precarious emergency services,” says Moreno. .
Brigade members trapped by a change of winds
The Autonomous Community of Murcia suffered between August 13 and August 15 another fire in the Sierra de Jumilla, which has also affected the Castilian-La Mancha town of Hellín and burned a total of 400 hectares and in which it did participate the EMU. Helicopters from the 112 of the Region, means of and two seaplanes from the Ministry and after activating level 2, also UME troops joined this first fire that the area suffered this summer. The mayor of Jumilla, the socialist Juana Guardiola, has criticized that “we have been in the municipality for a long time with an incomplete fire brigade, but the human resources of the forestry brigades -which are in charge of the tasks of monitoring and maintenance of the mountains- they are also scarce; professionals are lacking.
The lack of means, Guardiola laments, endangers the operations. “Some of the brigade members, even on the first night, were in real danger due to a sudden change in the wind, they got stuck and had a bad time.” “It was a night of strange winds,” says a forest firefighter who prefers not to be identified. “At night there is usually no changing wind – that happens more at dawn or dusk – but in five minutes everything changed and three brigades did not get the communication. They are miraculously alive. We have been reborn, they said.
Drought and lack of cleanliness
The mayor of Jumilla acknowledges that the concern about the possibility of these situations “is always there.” The mountains in the area “have a significant forest mass and the danger increases with the drought we are suffering and the lack of cleanliness; much more must be invested in keeping the mountains clean”. The climate “has come to stay and it will be hotter and drier and our mountains are a powder keg for any fire,” she warns.
Forestry tasks are also carried out throughout the year by firefighters or forestry brigades. “When I go to the mountains I no longer enjoy it, I only see the potential for fires,” says Mari Carmen del Cerro, the first woman in the region to be placed in the front line of fire 24 years ago. She also underlines the lack of personnel at Orthem, the private company that has had different names and to which the regional government has been outsourcing fire prevention and extinction services in the mountains for 16 years.
“Although we have 350 people hired, in the fire service there will be about 200. A day we are six troops per brigade, but there is always someone casualty,” he warns. “We are very exhausted. This year we have two deaths and the summer is not over yet. We have a terrible agreement and we are risking our lives for 1,200 euros”, adds the forest firefighter.
The socialist deputy in the Murcian Parliament also questions the capacity of the Consortium of the Fire Extinguishing and Rescue Service -the urban firefighters-, which covers the entire Region except the municipalities of Murcia and Cartagena. “If there is a traffic accident and the Consortium provides coverage, three firefighters would go in the best case scenario, while if the same accident occurs in the perimeter of the municipality of Murcia, a minimum of twelve would go,” explains the socialist deputy. While the Murcian capital has two fire stations with 20 people each, there are many local parks with a minimum staff of three firefighters that, on many occasions, is reduced to one or none. Moreno emphasizes that this problem has been dragging on since 2012 and the regional government has always opted for short-term measures: “Its policy is if there are not enough troops to put in more overtime.”
“We have asked the regional government that there be at least four firefighters in the local parks because with that amount the security protocols cannot be met,” says a CEIS firefighter who prefers not to be identified. “We have around 90 or 100 officers a day in the Region, the staff is very old because civil servant positions have not been taken since 2008 and since we refused to do overtime between April and July last, the lack of staff,” he adds.
“There are interventions in which we are very exposed, both us and the injured themselves. If there is a fire in a house and two people go to put out the fire and another two or three to do the tracing, all that time that a tracing is not being done can determine that a person lives or dies or is more or less seriously ill ” .
The firefighters of the Consortium went on strike during those months because the regional government was not willing to pay them for the extra hours they worked the previous summer, while asking for new jobs: “It is cheaper to have a firefighter put in more extra hours than another to which you have to pay social security, training or equipment, ”he adds. In principle, an agreement was reached that some 70 places would be expanded starting next year, although the workers denounce that “other promises of the regional government have fallen on deaf ears.”
Another problem is that the distribution of overtime is not centralized in a computer system in the Community of Murcia, so that firefighters have “a kind of marketing” with respect to that working time. “They have been proposing the systematization of overtime hours to management for years and it is not done,” adds the firefighter. They also point out as insufficient the fact that the CEIS has only two mechanics for the entire Region.
Irregularities detected by the Court of Auditors
On September 5, the service of the fire station of the coastal town of San Pedro del Pinatar will be restored, which remained closed because it was sustained only with overtime since 2012. In fact, the Court of Accounts has been requiring since then that it does not breach the payment of overtime to the firefighters of the Region, among other things because these cannot be used for a structural service. Last April, a week before Easter, the CEIS management did not want to sign one more extra hour due to the constant complaints from the Court, according to sources close to it.
Last March, the Court issued a provisional liquidation act and required the members of the Governing Board of the Firefighting and Rescue Consortium to provide joint and several guarantees, that is, to present a guarantee in case they were finally convicted. Fifty high-ranking officials of the regional administration, including mayors and councilors of Murcian municipalities of all political persuasions, although with a majority of the PP, will have to respond with their assets if a conviction is handed down for having participated in the July and December 2017 meetings in which it was agreed to pay overtime to CEIS firefighters. The case is in the Prosecutor’s Office, which will finally decide whether to file the case or open a trial.