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The Israeli Fire Fighting and Rescue Authority is now in charge of toxic materials monitoring and threat assessment, responsibilities previously held by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Illustration photo
Illustration photo

The reform in the Israeli fire fighting system, which began a year ago, didn’t skip toxic materials disposal. The operating procedures are being updated, and by government orders issued during November 2012 now include several new missions:

  • Detection and identification of toxic materials during an incident
  • Monitoring air toxicity
  • Threat assessment during incidents
  • Consultation services to police and military officers in order to help protect lives
  • Operating a national toxic materials training center

The reason for the changes is the way the national toxic materials disposal system originally worked. The system, established in 1993, included many government organizations: Police; IDF Home Front Command; Fire Fighting and Rescue; Magen David Adom; the Ministries of Environmental Protection, Internal Security, Health, Transportation and Economy; and the Prime Minister’s Office. The basic idea behind this complex system was that every organization would act within its own area of responsibility, as defined by law.

The dependencies created by this system slowed down response during incidents, and the government aimed to overcome the problem by transferring monitoring and threat assessment duties from the Environmental Protection Ministry to the fire fighting services. The government’s decision was based on the understanding that these missions would be conducted more effectively by the fire fighting services, which offer faster response times and are deployed throughout Israel.

Until recently the fire fighting and rescue services were only in charge of containment and mitigation, fire fighting and rescuing casualties of fires or exposure to toxins. In the future the fire fighters will, in addition, identify and monitor toxic materials, and issue threat assessments to civilians and the various personnel in the field.

IHLS – Israel Homeland Security

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In order to facilitate these changes the Fire Fighting Authority began training its personnel, especially the district toxic materials disposal units, in operations under the new procedures.

In addition, the authority began enlisting professional personnel which would be in charge of the threat assessment and monitoring duties. In August the authority began enlisting 12 chemists, toxic materials specialists and monitoring officials to be part of the district toxic materials disposal units. These specialists will monitor incidents, identify materials and advise the disposal unit commanders. Eight specialists were enlisted so far.

There were also hierarchy changes within the authority itself, with the addition of monitoring officers and a new national threat assessment chief in the authority’s operations division. The district officers will have degrees in sciences, will advise and supervise during events, and will be in charge of maintaining monitoring and threat assessment operational capabilities. Five district threat assessment officers were enlisted so far in the North, Shore, Dan and Jerusalem districts, and another enlistment tender was issued for Central and South districts.

Dr. David Hoichmann was appointed national threat assessment chief. The new chief will be in charge of training and advancement of professional personnel, and the authority also aims to enlist new training personnel for its national academy, to train elements outside of the authority itself.

Additional changes include:

  • Renewed deployment of disposal units, taking into account industry changes and the location of new dangerous facilities.
  • Operating 16 new mobile monitoring command centers, issued to the district disposal units
  • Purchasing monitoring equipment to be installed on Vulcan vehicles in use by the line-2 teams.

“Over the last decade there were more and more toxic materials incidents every year, and a growth in the overall Israeli chemical industry. These challenges call for constantly assessing the current response procedures, and the transfer of responsibilities to the fire fighting service is an important step in enhancing these response procedures,” this according to Sandra Moskovich, head of toxic materials disposal in the Fire Fighting and Rescue Authority.