The fire stations, each with only one firefighter on site, were closed on the decision of the national firefighters union, because one firefighter at a station is a precarious situation. Having one professional firefighter (and volunteers) answering the call of an emergency endangers both the firefighter and the citizen in trouble.
In the region of Gush Etzion/Efrat, Fire Chief Roni Yaacov mans the station alone. He has many volunteers, who he stated, are dedicated and serious, but not even terrific volunteers can replace a professional firefighter. Roni has been reassigned to the Beitar Illit fire station, adding his manpower and expertise to the two other firefighters stationed there.
When I drove over this morning to get some parting shots, the fire station was already closed, so I traveled to Roni's home, where he graciously agreed to speak with me, even though he was in the middle of family time.
Roni explained that the Israeli government cut 1/5th of the budget of fire stations, and dropped 250 firefighters from the system.
"The struggle is just!" GE/E Fire Chief stated. "The government is playing with fire, and endangering the safety of the residents."
Gush Etzion/Efrat's fire station has been open since 1980. Its budget is paid by the government and the local authorities. About 25 GE/E residents volunteer to help in the fire station and at the scene of fires.
Roni noted that both the Efrat and Gush Etzion's councils understand that he needs more manpower. They help him find volunteers, but one professional firefighter is not enough at a station. Nearby Kiryat Arba has two firefighters.
Firefighters don't only respond to fires, but to major emergencies, like the fatal car accident near Efrat's northern entrance a few weeks ago, and the Matnas accident where a little girl was caught in the giant screen. Israel's fire fighting teams are very well-trained for many different emergencies.
Roni thanked all residents that were involved in efforts to save the fire station, but the only thing that will really help at this point is for the government of Israel to realize that playing with fire could be a deadly business, and increase the budgets of fire stations everywhere.
Chas v'shalom, if there are any tragedies during this period of closures, the government is to blame, because the emergencies could not be responded to immediately.
Roni asked residents to be extra careful, especially during the winter heating season, because right now help can't come instantly.
Here is a video clip of Fire Chief Roni Yaacov discussing the closure of the Gush Etzion/Efrat fire station: http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=71