The citizen protection ministry is making plans to build a huge centre in Ptolemaida for the training of emergency services in the latest techniques for handling natural disasters, especially wildfires, Alternate Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas revealed on Monday, announcing that he is due to visit France to further the project in the coming week.
“A recent study has shown that by 2100, seven in 10 Europeans will be affected by natural disasters, especially fires in the south,” Toskas told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
“It is imperative, therefore, that we create a serious system that has prospects in the coming years. We are among those that are especially interested in such a system. Since we are unable to do this alone, because we do not have the financial capability, we are working with the French and putting the EU in the lead, because such a thing can only work as a European initiative,” Toskas said.
The “National Civil Protection Centre” to be set up in Ptolemaida is envisaged as spearheading the use of new methods and helping create a united front for handling emergencies between the countries of the Balkans, South Europe and the Mediterranean. This is expected to allow a more effective response to the constantly rising threats posed by climate change and overcome resource shortages in such services, he said.
The French have shown great interest in this Greek initiative and have drawn up an expert report on its implementation, while Toskas is due to meet his French counterpart in Paris and visit a similar centre in Marseille to be briefed on its equipment and operation.
During the visit, Toskas will also aim to draw up agreements for joint training of Greek and French fire men, including exchanges of forces to tackle major fires, and to discuss the future of a joint fleet of fire-fighting aircraft for Southern Europe that will jointly tackle major fires, an initiative supported by the French.
Toskas said that northern countries were less interested in fire-fighting than flood response but noted that Swedish authorities had expressed interest in the Ptolemaida project for training in handling floods and industrial disasters.
“This centre is something that gives the country an international role in civil protection issues, both in the Balkans and the South,” Toskas pointed out, stressing the importance of France’s participation, since it would help secure European funding.
He also noted that Ptolemaida’s location was convenient for working with Balkan countries, announcing a joint exercise of Greek, Albanian, FYROM and Bulgarian fire fighters in April.
The minister talked about preparing for the upcoming fire season in Greece, saying the ministry’s aim was to have everything ready before May. Among the preparations, Toskas told ANA, was a complete refit of 12 ‘Canadair’ aircraft engines that had been sent to the U.S. and would be returned “like new” so as to minimise the problems caused to fire-fighting aircraft in recent years due to ageing engines and a lack of parts after the shutdown of the manufacturer in Canada. According to experts, the makeover will allow 850 hours of continuous flight without breakdowns.
These engines are due to be delivered to the Air Force between April and May, while the ministry will also lease helicopters and find ways to use supplies left over and languishing in store rooms after the Olympic Games, such as water tanks and other equipment.
“Our aim is to drastically reduce the response time in the case of fires,” Toskas said, noting that the amount of land burnt in 2017 had been relatively small, even though the number of fires had been large.