Amid the current economic crisis in Russia and the devaluation of the national currency (ruble), the Russian government is considering a reform of the National State Fire Service. The planned reform aims to optimize the current structure of the service and to make it work more efficiently.
At present, the development of the fire service in Russia is regulated by the existing federal state program, known as "Fire safety in Russia until 2017," which was approved by the Russian government in 2013.
According to Vladimir Puchkov, Russia's Minister of Emergency Situations, which implements a control over the fire service in Russia, the Russian government plans to continue implementation of the program, with total funding estimated at 204 billion rubles (three billion U.S. dollars). Puchkov has also added that, because of the current crisis, funding of the program can be cut by 10 to 15 percent, but this will not result in the revision of the most important targets of the program and will not be associated with massive layoffs of firefighters.
Russian Fire Service
Currently, the Russian State Fire Service employs 220,000 people. It operates 13,600 buildings and structures, including 4,000 fire stations containing 18,634 fire appliances and 49 fireboats.
According to plans of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, at the initial stage optimization will mainly affect those structures and units of the service that perform secondary, redundant, and auxiliary functions.
According to the State, by January 1, 2016, there are plans to cut about 10 percent of senior officers of the service, as well as 16.5 percent of major commanders. At the same time, the number of junior command personnel will remain at the same level.
In the meantime, the latest state plans have already sparked criticism from some representatives of the Russian public and even some top official. According to an official spokesman of Denis Manturov, Russia's Minister of Industry and Trade, the current level of fire safety in Russia remains poor, which is reflected by several recent large-scale fires in Moscow and Kazan. It is thought that the reduction of funding and staff may result in a further deterioration of the current situation.
In the case of Moscow, a recent fire in the Moscow Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (Inion), a major center for research in social studies and humanities that was created in 1918 and holds 10 million documents and books, some of which date back to the 16th century, resulted in partial destruction of its libraries and archives and, according to some analysts, took place because of major mistakes in the fire protection system. The fire destroyed 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet) of the unique library of the Institute and damaged more than one million historic documents.
This was the second most serious fire in Russia since the beginning of the current year, after the fire in Kazan, which took place on the territory of the local Admiral shopping center and resulted in the deaths of 17 people.
In the meantime, despite the criticism, the government has already assured that the planned cuts should not prevent implementation of key goals of the Russian Fire Service. Among them are the establishment of new infrastructure and the purchase of new equipment for the needs of the Russian fire service, the establishment of infrastructure of voluntary fire departments (with the aim to protect remote regions and economic facilities of the country), the construction of multifunctional fire stations and fire testing laboratories for the protection of important economic facilities, the introduction of new effective technologies to prevent and extinguish fires (including the use of robotics and heavy aircraft), as well as the development of systems of communication and monitoring along with technologies for early fire warning.
The government also has plans to stimulate research and development activities in the industry, aimed at the designing of new technologies of firefighting and the purchase of new modern firefighting equipment.
The implementation of the latter plans are personally controlled by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. According to Medvedev, particular attention is expected to be paid to the expansion of the service's fleet, with the addition of up to 200 aircrafts by 2017. As part of these plans, the biggest hopes are put on the purchase of the Beriev Be-200 Altair aircraft, which is a multipurpose amphibious aircraft designed by the Beriev Aircraft Company to efficiently fight fires.
According to state plans, successful implementation of the program will help reduce the level of fire risk in Russia to the figures of developed countries. It will also help to reduce the number of fires at sites with high fire danger, in populated and industrial areas.
In addition, this should help in the reduction of deaths from fires by 27.5 percent by 2017 while the number of fires is expected to decrease by eight percent. The program will also help reduce the economic costs of fires to 44.1 billion rubles (786,884,000 million U.S. dollars).
In addition to those key goals, the program also includes the design of complex measures aimed at preventing wildfires, which usually begin in the second half of April, and in recent years have become one of the most pressing problems in Russia.
According to Alexander Khloponin, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, as part of these plans the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources has designed a methodology that aims to assess the effectiveness of firefighting and forest management activities implemented by the Russian regional authorities.
Additionally, the government has already approved the use of surveillance technologies, new navigation equipment, and drones for the identification and prevention of wildfires in Russia.
As part of these plans, the government has already signed an agreement with Progress Enterprise, one of Russia's largest engineering holdings, for the development of an autonomous system for monitoring forest fires, which is based on solar batteries and can detect smoke within a radius of 40 kilometers and transmit a signal via satellite. According to designers, the use of the new system will help to reduce spending on aerial surveillance of forests by about 20 percent.
Part of the funds will also be invested in the recovery of a single aviation forest service, which existed during the Soviet era (and until the end of the 1990s).
If in the 1980s more than 85 percent of forest fires were detected with the help of aviation in Russia, then at present this figure does not exceed 45 percent. Because of insufficient funding and lack of social benefits, the number of workers in the parachute fire service of Russia over the past 10 years has declined by more than two times the original amount, with a significant decline in the number of aerial observations.
In addition, as part of the reform, the government plans to establish specialized institutions and organizations that will focus on the training of specialists in the field of forest firefighting. So far, fighting fires in the forest has mostly been carried out by the efforts of army units that do not necessarily have experience in firefighting.
Finally, the Russian government plans to avoid repeating a situation in previous years when the burning of peat bogs in the Moscow region resulted in an ecological catastrophe in Moscow. During that period of time, death rates in the city increased by almost five to seven times, compared to average figures.