SEVEN Palestinian firefighters have come over from Hebron in the occupied West Bank to train with the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) of Scotland to enhance their skills and provide hands on experience in the latest firefighting techniques.
The project is led by FBU Palestinian Support Unit Coordinator, Jim Malone. ‘The FBU have a long and proud history of supporting the cause of Palestinian freedom and of giving practical support to the Palestinian Fire Service,’ said the FBU Scotland spokesperson.
‘The FBU has facilitated training projects and the delivery of kit and equipment to Palestinian Civil Defence and Municipalities of Nablus and Hebron.’ The current project involves the firefighters, who arrived in the UK on 5th January, undertaking Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) CABA foundation training course at Uaill.
The FBU is facilitating this project in partnership with SFRS and the Scottish Government in what has been called a ‘unique bespoke initiative’ along with financial assistance from the Municipality of Hebron and the United States Support Command (British Support Team).
During their trip, the Hebron firefighters have attended a reception at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and will be attending a reception at Westminster on 18th January, joined by Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian, before their return to occupied Palestine on 19th January.
The FBU will be running a second training event in March when eight firefighters from the Palestine Civil Defence Unit in Ramallah will also receive training at Uaill. In partnership with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the FBU has now facilitated training courses for over 100 trainee Palestinian firefighters since 2009.
You can see some of their work in a moving and inspiring film, ‘Firefighters Under Occupation’. The most recent batch of trainees received their training in Scotland after the Mayor of Hebron, Dr Dauod Zatari, contacted the FBU and asked to assist the city’s firefighters after multiple fire fatalities tested the resolve of the Hebron Fire Brigade.
In response, representatives of the FBU visited the city, and observed that the service was poorly equipped and had received little formal training in modern firefighting techniques. According to the FBU statement: ‘The FBU resolved to do all it could to deliver Breathing Apparatus, Personal Protective Equipment and to afford a training course in the CABA skills required.
‘In September of 2016, thanks to the collaborative Scottish venture, a shipment of firefighting equipment left Dundee. In October, it arrived in Israel, where it was impounded by Israeli Military Customs, despite being a humanitarian delivery. The FBU subsequently returned to Israel and Palestine in order to secure the release of the donation, which they succeeded in doing in January of 2017. The equipment was then dispersed amongst the firefighters of Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and the volunteers in the Shu’fat Refugee Camp.’
The FBU said that the most recent trainees have ‘responded magnificently to the challenges and opportunities afforded them by the outstanding training team at the National Training Centre at Cambuslang. The skills obtained will allow the firefighters to work safely in hazardous environment’s and to develop and maintain safe procedures for the benefit of the Palestinian people.’
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: ‘I am immensely proud that Scotland stands in solidarity with the Palestinian firefighters who visited the Scottish Parliament.’ Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: ‘We should all be proud of these efforts to help Palestinians struggling under occupation.
‘I have been to Hebron in Palestine many times. It is the largest city in the West Bank and is in desperate need of fire and rescue equipment. This is the second time firefighters (from Hebron) have been to the Scottish Parliament and it has been amazing to witness how much the service has grown due to the efforts of the Fire Brigade Union the fire service and the Scottish Government.
‘MSPs hope to visit Hebron in the future to see their work in action. The skills that are acquired in Scotland will literally save lives. We should all be proud of these efforts to help Palestinians struggling under occupation.’
The Hebron Fire Brigade trainees’ passing out ceremony takes place today at the National Training Centre in Cambuslang. At 10.30am this morning there will be a practical demonstration of the skills they have learnt, and at 2pm there will be a presentation of awards.
The FBU-supported documentary, made by South Wales firefighter Ciaran Gibbons, Firefighters Under Occupation charts Malone’s return to Palestine and gives a unique insight into what life is like for a firefighter in the world’s longest running military occupation. A firefighter is a firefighter, no matter where they are in the world,’ says Malone.
‘We’re here (in Palestine) to represent the FBU, show our humanitarian side, our internationalist side. We’re helping firefighters working under extremely difficult circumstances.’
Security restrictions mean Palestinian firefighters are regularly held up at checkpoints dotted across the land and searched by soldiers from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) as part of strict security measures.
These can even take place when crews are in the middle of responding to emergency calls and can involve firefighters being forced to strip to their underwear to check for hidden bombs. Coming under gunfire is not uncommon.
In one harrowing incident documented in the film, firefighter Rabe’e Antar recalls how he was shot in the shoulder by Israeli soldiers when his fire crew were delivering much needed water to a hospital. At the time he remembers thinking ‘It’s all over’.
Rabe’e survived his injuries, but the shrapnel wound on his right shoulder is a constant reminder of how close he came to death and of how, perhaps surprisingly, it had nothing to do with firefighting. A lack of suitable equipment and resources has put the lives of other fire fighters at risk.
Watch manager Firas Mosmar has severe burns on his arms, hands and head after being caught in the backdraft tackling a fire in a storage unit. Even with the supplies delivered by Malone, there is still a chronic shortage of personal protective equipment.
Many of the Palestinian firefighters wear layered overalls when extinguishing fires. The lack of even the most basic equipment was what prompted the FBU to step in. In recent years Malone has organised educational trips to the UK so that the Palestinian firefighters can develop their firefighting and rescue skills.