The Support Programme for Voluntary Forest Fire Protection Teams, implemented by NPF Desmos, in cooperation with WWF Greece and HIGGS (Higher Incubator Giving Growth & Sustainability), is progressing rapidly. A first group of 21 teams have already received equipment that significantly improves the safety and efficiency of their 749 active volunteers. The giving of support will be completed by means of the delivery of equipment to a further 29 teams before the beginning of the next fire-fighting period, which starts in May. Moreover, a large number of volunteers received specialised training on preventing and responding to forest fires, as well as on restoring burnt forest areas.
Overall, this is a revitalising cooperation for the protection of our forests carried out under the auspices of ''Bicentennial '21'', with the support of the Athina I. Martinou Foundation, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and the National Bank of Greece.
Voluntary forest fire protection teams are constantly on the front line of forest fires, making a key contribution to the work of the competent State authorities. It is therefore imperative that volunteers be provided with essential equipment and know-how, so that they can continue being a crucial link in the national forest fire protection system. In this context, 149 volunteer teams actively involved in the relevant field were invited to participate in the programme; 98 teams completed the evaluation process successfully. In order to select the 50 teams to be supported, WWF Greece followed a well-tested methodology, using questionnaires, personal interviews and field visits, in order to understand the scope of the volunteer teams’ activity as well as to assess their needs in terms of equipment. This methodology allowed for an in-depth analysis and helped identify, on the basis of specific criteria, the most vulnerable areas and teams. For example, the analysis identified teams that either cover areas where there are no state fire brigade forces, or where the intervention of the latter is actually being delayed due to distance, or which are located in areas with a high wildfire risk index or in fire-damaged areas, where the forest is expected to undergo a natural regeneration process and is therefore in even highest need of protection by the relevant teams.
In particular, between June 2022 and January 2023, over 80 teams were inspected across the country, from Rhodes to Evros and from Samos to Kefalonia. For each team finally selected following this extensive evaluation process, a fully personalised support plan was drawn up, considering various criteria such as: its area of action and geographical data dictating a different response to wildfires, the field tactics followed by each team as well as its existing potential in terms of equipment and human resources. Furthermore, special emphasis was placed on requests that might have a multiplier effect on forest firefighting, such as, for example, the creation of hiking teams and their appropriate equipment so that they are able to operate in neighbouring regions, too, as well as the upgrading of emergency vehicles. Based on these criteria, materials that meet the appropriate standards per equipment category were selected in order to substantially upgrade each team’s work focusing primarily on the safety of human resources.
At the same time, a 1st round of training workshops was carried out between April and May 2022 with the active participation of 53 volunteer teams from various regions across the country (Attica, Samos, South Aegean, Western Greece and the Peloponnese), while a 2nd round of workshops started in January. These workshops aim at providing volunteer firefighters with specialised knowledge on how to prevent and respond to forest fires, and thus significantly upgrade their safety in the field. Moreover, these workshops provide an enhanced understanding of the particularly important role of volunteers in protecting the natural regeneration of forest vegetation, given the critical role of the protection of such areas against new fires for many years after a disaster has occurred.
Vassilis Zavitsanos, president of the Volunteer Firefighters Club of Pythagorio Samos, one of the teams supported in the framework of this initiative, has stated that:
“This programme has covered essential and long-standing shortcomings faced by our club and will result in a better and comprehensive contribution to our social work, as well as to the natural environment of our island that has been so severely affected by forest fires in the past”.
In the same vein, Angelos Lymperis, president of the Association of Volunteer Firefighters of Agios Kirikos, Ikaria, has stated that:
“Οnce delivered on the island of Ikaria, the equipment meant to support us was used straight away by our volunteers in the fire at Fournoi on 6 January 2023. This aid has already proved to be of great importance, both for us and the safety of our members, and in terms of our assistance to the fire brigade. This so, especially during periods when limited transport options make it difficult to receive help from elsewhere. This action offers not only practical support to volunteers but also vital support to border island residents”.
Michalis Kapetanakis, president of ‘Ena’ Volunteer Civil Protection Team of the Association of Three Monasteris Residents of the Municipality of Rethymnon, noted as follows:
“We received material support, namely firefighting uniforms, helmets, gloves and radios that we needed so much. Participation in and attendance at training workshops on how to prevent and respond to forest fires, along with said supply of material equipment, will help our volunteers operate more successfully and effectively while remaining safe when participating in forest firefighting actions in the future”.
Vassilios Raptis, president of the Club of Greek Commandos of Preveza has stated that:
“Our involvement in the programme, the knowledge gained in the specialised workshops on how to prevent and respond to forest fires, as well as the forest firefighting equipment, enhance our effectiveness in the field and contribute to the safety of our members when operating in fire incidents as a hiking team”.
Finally, Panagiotis Englezos, president of the Salakos Volunteer Disaster Response Team, Rhodes, has stated that:
“It is a great pleasure and an honour for our team, and even more so for our homeland, to receive material support from the Support Programme for Voluntary Forest Fire Protection Teams. It provides us with the opportunity to continue doing what we love, what was the trigger for the creation of our team, what is our way of living: to serve our homeland as volunteers. This is the first time our contribution has received active appreciation, the first time that words have turned into actions; we would therefore like to thank you warmly and to assure you that we will put your support to good use”.
In the framework of the next stage of the programme, WWF Greece, in cooperation with the selected volunteer teams, will monitor the work of such teams during the upcoming firefighting period, with a view to evaluating the significant of the training and material support received by the teams.
The ultimate aim of this initiative is to contribute, with further proposals and conclusions on the improvement of the readiness of the country's voluntary forest fire protection teams, in responding to forest fires and their consequences on the natural environment as well as on society as a whole.
Notes & accompanying materials:
For media enquiries, please contact:
Christy Sotiriou, Media & Public Relations Manager, WWF Greece, mob.+30 6947880699, [email protected].