After years of underinvestment, the Polish authorities recently intensified efforts to overhaul the country’s fire services. Among other measures, the government is aiming to raise the salaries of firefighters, purchase new gear, and build new fire stations. The reform is carried out with the use of funds provided to Poland from the European Union (EU), which, since 2005, has allowed the country to upgrade its infrastructure.
Poland’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Jaroslaw Zielinski said on March 4, 2016, that the country’s firefighters will obtain a pay raise of about five percent this year. Moreover, the Polish authorities are currently implementing a number of investments to bolster the country’s fire services. The announcement was made at a meeting between the deputy minister and the representatives of the ZZS Florian, the country’s leading fire service trade union.
“During the meeting, some of the discussed topics included the government program to overhaul the law enforcement and emergency services,” said Krzysztof Oleksak, the trade union’s chairman. “The deputy minister informed us that the program is to be launched on January 1, 2017. It will have a four-year perspective, and its scope, in addition to the pay increase, will include various projects related to improving the conditions of service, modernizing the infrastructure and equipment [of firefighters].”
New Polish Government
The latest move follows Poland’s change in government, which took place in late 2015. As a result of the October 25 parliamentary election, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo from the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party formed a new cabinet that aims to, among its other priorities, increase the salaries of public servants, law enforcement and emergency services personnel, and other employees of state-run institutions.
During the prime minister’s recent visit to a fire station in Uniecko, in Poland’s central part, Szydlo told local firefighters that their salaries will also be raised this year. “We will implement these raises because we believe it is necessary to appreciate and reward those who are at our service and who had not been sufficiently compensated and appreciated. We will change this, and this year their salaries will be raised,” the prime minister said on February 26, 2016, as reported by local news agency PAP.
In addition to this, Szydlo said that her government will bolster its efforts to develop the voluntary fire service whose activities complement the state-run fire service in less-populated parts of the country. “We need to introduce programs which will allow these stations [run by voluntary firefighters] to develop,” Szydlo said. The prime minister added that such stations should be provided with adequate amounts of gear to ensure that voluntary firefighters can protect local communities.
Increased Spending on Firefighters
On a related note, the planned pay raise for firefighters is accompanied by increased spending by both Poland’s central government and regional authorities on purchasing new gear and vehicles for the fire service, as well as major infrastructural investments. Only in the past few months, a string of projects to build new fire stations throughout the country was announced in Poland.
In Zukowo, in the country’s northern part, a new fire station was to be opened by June 2016 under an investment worth some PLN 6 million ($1.5 million US). Construction work on the fire station began in late 2014 and the project was in its final phase (at press time) with local firefighters awaiting the delivery of equipment to the built facility, as reported by local broadcaster Radio Gdansk. The fire station was fitted with a total surface of 1,000 square meters (10,764 square feet) and was expected to be launched in the second quarter of this year.
The investment was financed by funds provided from the municipal budget, which represents a rare case in which such an investment was not carried out with the use of funds acquired from the EU or the regional budget.
Under a separate project worth about PLN 1 million ($250,000 US), local firefighters in the neighboring Stezyca municipality will obtain three Ford Transit FED V363 vehicles, fitted with 2.2-liter engines.
Gdansk, the largest port city on the Polish Baltic Sea shore, will also obtain a new fire station. The facility, worth about PLN 5.4 million ($1.35 million US), is currently under construction on a land plot of 10,000 square meters.
Meanwhile, a further PLN 10.5 million ($2.75 million US) was allocated by local authorities to purchase new gear for the fire service of Silesia, Poland’s southwestern region, including 18 new vehicles for local firefighters.
Owing to this, four Scania four-wheel-drive vehicles that can carry a crew of six will be allocated to the fire stations in the municipalities of Cieszyn, Zywiec, Tychy, and Gliwice. The fire stations in Czestochowa will obtain a Renault 4 × 2 vehicle, and the fire stations in Katowice are to acquire a Renault Midlum four-wheel-drive vehicle and a Ssangyong Rexton environmental-chemical rescue vehicle. Moreover, the firefighters in Bielsko-Biala and Wodzislaw Slaski will be provided with three Renault D 4 × 2 vehicles. In Jastrzebie-Zdroj, the city’s fire station will be allocated a new pumping unit.
The procurements were jointly funded by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management (NFOSiGW), a state-run institution that is largely financed by funds obtained from the EU, and local governments from the southwestern Silesia region. The new vehicles and gear were delivered to the fire stations on February 26, 2016, at an official ceremony with the participation of local authorities.
Furthermore, local authorities plan to spend some PLN 9.5 million ($2.375 million US) with the aim to acquire new gear and vehicles for the fire stations in Silesia by the end of 2016, of which about PLN 8 million ($2 million US) is to be spent on acquisitions of new vehicles for the region’s fire stations, and the remaining PLN 1.5 million ($375,000 US) on procurements of other gear for firefighters, the NFOSiGW said in a statement.
The variety of sources of financing allows the country’s fire services to modernize their gear and purchase new vehicles and equipment despite Poland’s budget cuts. In 2015, the Polish fire services were allocated a some PLN 176.7 million ($44.2 million US) from the state budget. If local firefighters were deprived of funds obtained from other sources, such as the regional and municipal authorities and the NFOSiGW, they would most likely not be able to upgrade their gear and purchase new vehicles.
Interventions on the Rise
What is noteworthy is that the latest data from the Polish fire service suggest that the country is increasingly in need of a well-equipped and organized firefighting force. In 2015, Polish firefighters took part in 489,881 interventions, including 184,817 fires, 276,211 incidents, and 28,853 false alarms. A year earlier, there were 419,265 interventions, which were comprised of 145,237 fires, 249,472 incidents, as well as 24,556 false alarms. This also represented a considerable increase compared with 2013, in which the Polish fire service carried out 397,650 interventions throughout the country.
Polish firefighters were poised to be involved in securing a major event with the participation of some of the top world leaders, as Poland’s capital Warsaw hosted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit on July 8-9, 2016 (after press time). Preparations ahead of the event were a key priority for the country’s law enforcement and emergency services. They also served as a test for whether the Polish fire service was capable of effectively using its newly acquired equipment and capabilities
Because of the limited funds provided by the Polish state, Poland’s 16 regional fire departments, 335 municipal fire stations, and 515 units located throughout the country are mostly dependent on funds from the regional and municipal authorities. Their activities are complemented by the voluntary fire services, which are scattered across Poland’s less populated municipalities, ensuring the country’s entire surface is ensured a minimum level of protection. In total, there are close to 4,100 fire stations operated by volunteers in all of Poland’s regions, according to data from 2014.
Focus on Female Firefighters
The country’s professional firefighting force totals 29,955, of which 1,197 are female firefighters, according to the latest data from the National Headquarters of the State Fire Service (KG PSP). Female firefighters represent slightly less than four percent of the country’s fire service, but they have a considerable share of the service’s civilian workforce, with 1,434 employees out of a total of 2076, or more than 69 percent. However, regarding managing positions in the Polish fire service, only 2.09 percent of them are held by female firefighters.
The service’s National Headquarters says that it aims to ensure equal treatment for all firefighters in line with its gender equality policy. As a result, on January 8, 2016, the headquarters established a special working group, which is to cooperate with the service’s authorities to analyze the existing legislation and procedures and ensure that they are implemented to secure equal treatment for all male and female firefighters, according to the KG PSP.