The State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) has decided to temporarily shut down 18 less busy branches until the end of 2022, as reported by VUGD chief Oskars Āboliņš.
Operations will therefore cease at Roja, Sabile, Piltene, Alsunga, Jaunjelgava, Nereta, Eleja, Aknīste, Viesīte, Auce, Bulduri, Baldone, Cesvaine, Varakļāni, Mazsalaca, Strenči, Zilupe and Tilža VUGD branches.
It will not happen at the same time, each post will be shut down depending on the situation and staff availability – branches will remain operational on some days but shut down on others.
Shutting down those branches means the staff will not respond to call of emergencies from those specific branches. Instead response teams will be sent from the closest other branches.
«The period of time for which branches will be shut down will depend on their geographical location and situation with staff – it may last a couple of days or until the end of the year. Operations will cease with breaks. If VUGD is able to ensure at least three-man skeleton crew shifts, they will be sent to respond to emergencies. The service will also make sure to avoid shutting down branches whose area of operations may overlap in a region,» said Āboliņš.
Staff of the branches to be shut down will not be laid off – they will be transferred to other VUGD branches.
VUGD will also work to ensure transferred workers are transported to their new work places.
The service will work to ensure the reponse time to emergencies is not impacted much. However, currently it is hard to say by how many seconds or minutes response time may increase in the current situation.
«It is pure geography – the distance between the branch and the emergency. This means everything will depend on the distance. At the same time, instead of shutting down branches left and right, we analyse each situation individually to ensure the closest branches are still able to offer quick response,» stressed Āboliņš.
In accordance with existing regulations, fire fighters are to arrive at an emergency within eight minutes in cities, villages and small villages if there are VUGD branches located there. The response time in cities or villages in which there are no local VUGD branches is 23 minutes.
At the same time, regulations state that rescuers can arrive later if the delay is caused by reasons outside their control (natural or man-made disaster, etc.).
It is possible this situation may continue next year. However, everything will depend on available funding.
At the same time, Āboliņš does not consider overtime employment as a reasonable solution, since fire fighters have to rest too.
This situation appeared because VUGD has 12% vacancies or a shortage of nearly 400 workers together with lasting absense of 160 workers for reasons like incapacity for work and child care leave.
«This decision was difficult to make, but I want to stress – this is not about shutting down branches, only their temporary closure,» he stressed.
Minister for the Interior Kristaps Eklons told journalists that shutting down branches was expected, because for ten years now the government has been aware of the problems in the sector. However, support has been lacking these years.
«Because of the situation with lacking funding we have ended up in a situation when we are forced to reduce services for residents and increase our response time. VUGD is prepared to provide assistance, but the question is for long, and the decisive factor is that a longer response time means in some situation people may not live long enough for help to arrive,» stressed the minister.
Considering the aforementioned, Eklons pointed out to residents, the forming government and 14th Saeima how important internal security is, and that the topic itself should be viewed in the context of residents’ safety and state security.
The minister said he hopes the next government will be able to make the decision in regards to adequate funding for internal security so that it is possible to develop services in a long-term perspective and to prevent existing workers from leaving the service.
At the same time, Eklons warned that even if short-term funding solutions are found to help raise rescuers’ wages, it will not help secure enough workers for VUGD – the issue of wages has been left unaddressed for a long time, which has resulted in non-competitive wages in VUGD.