The Swiss national Pascal Praz, chair of the Opération Villages Roumains - Suisse association, is working to have the decommissioned equipment of Swiss fire services sent to Romania. He explains: "Vehicles that have been in use for 20 years in Switzerland are taken out of operation. They only have fifteen thousand kilometres on the clock and are in perfect working condition. We take the fire brigade vehicles and overhaul them before sending them to Romania."
The association together with Romanian representatives set up centres for volunteer fire brigades in the event of emergencies and trained the volunteers. The Romanian armed forces and Swiss fire service personnel who travelled to Romania during their holidays provided a training course for the fire brigade volunteers. In view of the success of the project Switzerland decided to fund the Opération Villages Roumains - Suisse association with CHF 250,000 from the Swiss contribution to the enlarged EU. The aim is to ensure that the volunteer fire service in Romania continues to expand.
The Opération Villages Roumains - Suisse association was founded in 1988 in Brussels as a protest movement against the village systematisation programme of the former Romanian president, Nicolae Ceaușescu. The programme saw the forced displacement of the populations of small villages into agro-industrial centres to free up arable land. To protest against the destruction of traditional rural communities in Romania, the Opération Villages Roumains association, comprising representatives from Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France was formed to support Romanian villages.
Why the volunteer fire brigade is important
The volunteer fire brigade in Romania consists of regional centres for emergency situations with each centre covering four to five municipalities. Between 40 and 50 firefighters have so far been trained to deal with emergency situations. The volunteer fire brigade relieves the professional fire service by attending to smaller incidents or bridge the time until the professional fire brigade arrives on the scene. The volunteer force is also trained to deal with other emergency situations such as floods.
The Romanian law on the voluntary fire brigade has been implemented thanks to the work of civil society. A Romanian-Swiss partnership created the basis for the volunteer fire brigade and has in this way contributed to the implementation of the law. Four new voluntary emergency service centres have been set up since the beginning of the project, which is funded by Switzerland's EU enlargement contribution, and more are expected to be set up by the end of 2016.
'Stories of Renewal' blog
The story of the creation of the voluntary fire brigade in Romania is based on the Romanian 'Stories of Renewal' blog, which arose out of the Romanian-Swiss cooperation programme of 2015. The journalist Victor Kapra and the photographer Cătălina Filip, both Romanian nationals, carried out reports and photographed people active in the projects supported by the Swiss enlargement contribution, and published what these people had to say.
The Swiss contribution to the enlarged EU funds the projects they visited through the Partnership Fund and the Thematic Fund for the participation of civil society. The aim of these two funds is both to support existing and new partnerships between Romanian and Swiss organisations and municipalities and to transfer Swiss expertise to Romanian institutions. They also aim to promote the active participation of civil society in Romanian society.