With the hot weather returning, along with memories of last year’s horrendous forest fires, AMAL - the association of Algarve councils - has decided to get pro-active over the inconvenient truth that less and less young people are coming forwards to train as firefighters.
At their meeting last Friday, the region’s mayors heard that the Algarve urgently needs to attract 300 new ‘bombeiros’ - as quickly as possible.
An incentive package, involving discounts in IMI (rates) payments and rent subsidies will now be studied by a working group.
AMAL president Jorge Botelho told the meeting that it was “time to dignify the firefighting profession”.
The move was suggested by Monchique mayor Rui André whose borough was worst hit last year by blazes that raged for days.
“Firefighters, even the professionals, prefer to work in a hotel serving tables because they earn more money”, he told the meeting - pointing out that a woman who takes in ironing makes more than one who joins the Bombeiros Voluntários.
Another ‘problem’ is that firefighters are used for non-firefighting tasks, he said - like ferrying patients to and from hospital treatments, which further depletes available ‘boots on the ground’ at times of emergencies.
The region’s ‘force’ right now stands at 1,200, André told the meeting - and as we all saw last summer, at the height of the season when land is tinderbox dry this number cannot cope with multiple blazes.
During the worst of last year’s fires in Monchique, Algarve firefighters were ‘reinforced’ with colleagues and air support from as far away as Lisbon, Beja and Évora.
With less than three months to go before the critical “Charlie” phase for fire risks, Mayor André is now ‘in charge’ of taking the incentive plan forwards.
Writing on Facebook, he said it is now his responsibility to find answers so that the “Algarve’s firefighting family can grow” and become valued as much as it deserves.