Planting Trees and Putting Out Fires

Wednesday, November 14, 2018 12:31 PM

These days, being a KKL-JNF forester isn’t only about planting trees and caring for the forest. Due to ongoing terror attacks from the Gaza Strip that target Israel’s forests, KKL-JNF staff spend a good part of the day putting out fires.

Not only tree planting

Davar Rishon
Nitzan Zvi Cohen

“Planting trees and putting out fires”: Meet the KKL-JNF Firefighting Unit

Alongside the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, KKL-JNF has its own firefighting unit, which is presently participating in the effort against the kite terror | Edva Shahar, KKL-JNF’s first female fire truck driver: “ I dreamed about doing something satisfying, and I really love nature.”

Edva Shahar (22), who finished her training last Thursday, is KKL-JNF’s first female fire truck driver. “I dreamed about doing something satisfying, feeling that I was really doing something. I really love nature, and KKL-JNF protects nature and plants forests,” she said to Davar Rishon. The last few months KKL-JNF’s firefighting unit has been taking part in putting out the fires caused by the incendiary kites and balloons in the Western Negev, alongside the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“A fire truck driver is responsible for the team that is the first responder to the fires and enters the area where the fire is raging,” Shahar explained. “A fire truck is not like a regular vehicle. It’s full of equipment, and you have to calculate how much water it has. I am responsible for a team of two and for the water pump. The veteran workers accepted me with open arms. I think they understand that I am continuing in their footsteps, that the next generation needs to continue this job.”

Shahar, who originally comes from Bat Yam and now lives in Ilaniya, is stationed at the KKL-JNF station at Golani Junction. “When I’m not in the fire truck, I do forestry work, but I like driving and feel responsible for my team. I had already participated in putting out three fires, but not yet as the driver. It’s sad that people burn forests, but it’s fun/meaningful taking part in extinguishing the fires and rehabilitating the forests.”

Ilan Gino, who is responsible for KKL-JNF’s firefighting network, explained that the organization’s network was established when the state was founded. According to him, “they planted forests and also put fires out – at first by hand and later on by more sophisticated methods.” Today, KKL-JNF has 25 unique fires trucks that were especially designed for the organization’s specific needs. “These are relatively small fire trucks that can navigate through the thick of the forest – they are narrow, short and low. Last year, we also received a donation of a Tatra truck from the government of the Czech Republic after the fire in Haifa. This is also a unique truck, with a high degree of navigability, a 4.5 cubic meter water holding capacity, sprinklers, a water cannon and more.”

According to Gino, there’s not a lot of people in KKL-JNF whose daily job is putting out fires. “People work in other fields and take turns as firefighters,” he said. “A worker can plant trees in the morning, or be an engineer, and in the evening they become a firefighter. Edva is the first woman who is actually taking part in putting out the fires.”

Hamed Abu Siam (45) is a veteran KKL-JNF worker in the Western Negev region. “I haven’t been here so long, only twenty years…” he says, “I began in KKL-JNF as a field worker: planting, irrigating and pruning. I worked at that for a few years. Then I started working at a lookout tower for another three, four years, and then I started putting out fires, and I’ve been working as a fire truck driver up till now.” Every day he travels from his home in Rahat to the fire truck at Gilat Junction, which he drives to the Be’eri and Kisufim regions.

“For almost five months now we’ve been dealing with fires on the Gaza Border on a daily basis. There were about 35-40 outbreaks of fires every day, and recently it’s gone down to 20.” It should be noted that during this time, there were more than a thousand fires that destroyed about 2,800 acres of forested areas. “It’s been calmer the last few days, and I hope the quiet will continue. We work together with the Fire and Rescue Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority, from the early morning until 21:00 at night, every single day, and we also operate the lookout tower in Be’eri. This year, the Western Negev region in the south received three fire trucks, and guys from the north come here all the time to help,” he added.

KKL-JNF’s Be’eri lookout tower has become the headquarters of all the firefighting forces: the Fire and Rescue Authority, the Nature and Parks Authority, the IDF and the volunteers who come to the tower, where they are given their jobs and divided into work teams in the fire stricken areas. The lookout tower is manned by a KKL-JNF fire spotter every day from the early hours of the morning until the late hours of the night.