G. Maridakis and C. Panitsidis
August, 13th 2018
Following the recent deadly fires in Greece, there are still more dead people among us. On Monday, July 23, 2018, in the Attic suburbs of Athens, two major fires broke out and became the cause of funeral songs and lamentation. So, on our website, there was no room for immediate comments and criticism. That would be at least disrespect for the 95 dead, contempt in their memory. Over time though, we give our article as our testimony following an on-the-spot wandering in the paths of horror, as a libation for so many unjustly lost lives.
Indeed, mythology always played an essential role in the daily life of Greeks since ancient times. Let us add that the paradoxes also had their place of honour.
Part of the mythology was that Greeks always had to have enemies to justify the purpose of their existence without looking at the possibility that the enemy could have been their-selves who through their acts and omissions created a profoundly hostile environment for themselves and their society. Since self-criticism was and remains a problematic affair, if they could not find an enemy, then they had to invent one. This habit continues to this day. Thus we have:
Every year preparations are being made to deal with forest fires. Between May and June, which is the beginning of the firefighting period, politicians visit the base of amphibian aircraft, used in aerial firefighting, to declare fleet readiness and the country’s shielding against certain charges of the fire-breathing enemy.
The myth about the fleet readiness: The statements are made, but the readiness of the fleet is far from accurate. How else can one read the preparedness of a national fleet of 18 amphibian aircraft, of which 14 were grounded in mid-July? Is the enemy of the Greeks the very State?
Another subject: The National Air Force Fleet and Private Helicopters. Apart from the amphibian aircraft operated by the Hellenic Air Force with self-sacrifice due to lack of spare parts and under the most adverse conditions, the State rents helicopters from private companies. These helicopters are designed to assist firefighting, to act as a complement to the national fleet of amphibian aircraft and eventually to potentially increase the total volume of water to be dumped in a fire.
The national fleet of 18 amphibian aircraft costs the taxpayer approximately € 18,000,000 each year (i.e., a total of 18 aircraft, times 100 flight hours each, times € 10,000 per flight hour). Private helicopters cost the taxpayer – on average – € 22,000,000 each year. The lease concerns only four months-from June to September-and applies for 120 guaranteed hours per helicopter. It should be noted that helicopters’ rental per flight hour varies from € 10,000 to € 25,000.
Another myth: The transparency in public tenders for the supply of private helicopters to aerial firefighting. Politicians assure the public every year for transparency in public tenders, but the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. How else can one judge the competitions of the past few years when companies that have filed for bankruptcy or “ghost” companies with no postal addresses with a share capital of 5000 € are declared contractors of the firefighting project? Do such companies have the ability to comply with the provisions of the Government’s Procurement Regulations regarding guarantees? Who will, in the end, inform the Greek taxpayer of these distortions?
Paradox 1: Despite the announcement of readiness, despite the additional charter of private helicopters, even though Greece has one of the largest fleets of aircraft for aerial firefighting, although the length of the lacy coast of Greece is almost equal to that of China or 70% of the length of North American shores, and that Greece is washed by three seas, fire’s natural retardant-yet on the 23rd of July, more than 17,000 seaside acres were burned in two adjacent areas to Elefsina airport, i.e. the main base of the firefighting aircraft and helicopters.
It leaves one wondering as to how such large areas next to the sea, adjacent to the airport base for amphibious aircraft and helicopters, turned into charcoal. After so many preparations, such a readiness, after deducting € 40,000,000 from taxpayers’ pockets, and after the strenuous tug-of-war over the selection of the top helicopter vendor-a debut for a newly registered company of 5000 € share capital-lest aerial firefighting should not be the solution for greek forest fires?
Meanwhile, strangely enough, those accountable for the disasters, according to the investigations into the causes of catastrophic fires, are always the strong winds, illegal house owners in forested areas, but never the State Authority.
We got our just deserts. Let us accept the reality however much it hurts, and let us look, at last, all of us closely into the problem to find a solution. Otherwise, we will never come out of this eternal quagmire. In 2007, at the meetings of the institutionalised state bodies, the highest ranks of the Fire Brigade reported a lack of staff in case of major incidents. Accurately and prophetically, 11 years ago, after the deadly fires of Peloponnese, and Evia, the Fire Brigade Chief and the Commander of the Fire Protection Coordination Center (Σ.ΚΕ.Δ) had pointed out that the mechanism available to intervene and suppress natural disasters had insufficient reserves to deal with two concurrent fronts, and even less so for three or more. What has been improved ever since?
Today, due to climate change and the deterioration of meteorological conditions, Greece is now called upon to protect human lives, commercial activities, and its forestry resources in a hazard-laden environment. To this end, the guidelines need to be redefined.
Paradox 2: Greece, they say, is the land of light, yet the tree of knowledge is inconveniently planted.
A severe aspect for the protection of the environment, property and people’s lives is the creation of devoted citizens’ educational web links for knowledge concerning their self-protection.
It is certain that within the Greek society there is untapped human potential with vast knowledge, experience, global recognition, prestige and honesty that could play a critical role in the part of preventative fire protection and rescue of the population and property, with limited costs and infinitely more excellent results.
There should be bilateral and multilateral agreements to strengthen and allocate resources to benefit only the best practice in the field of firefighting. Undoubtedly, Greece has many forest fires, but it also has seawater in abundance. There is only one problem: How to transfer water from the sea to the burning forests. The work needed for such a transfer is huge. If the aerial firefighting fleet is the solution then, the country must invest large sums of money in procuring many amphibious aircraft which will be air and seaworthy when needed. It is also necessary to spend funds to develop a sufficient capacity to manage such a fleet, intending to avoid the waste of taxpayers’ money either by limiting excessive use or by buying undue surplus capacity.
At present, however, and in the light of the above, amid arbitrary dwellings that have changed the use of land illegally and abusively across the Greek territory, amid repeated arson, amid impunity, while all have ceased in the this-otherwise-European country, the politicians of all factions and persuasions give, in a consistent manner over time, raging battles, defending vigorously only the good of their homeland, with an exception, their salary.