Volunteer fire brigade in Romania – civil society involvement

Article, 06.07.2016

Romanian civil society is working to set up a volunteer fire service. More than five years ago the Romanian Parliament passed a law according to which every municipality in the country should have its own volunteer fire brigade. Unfortunately the municipalities did not have the necessary funds so that in many places the law remained dead letter. For this reason, Romanian civil society, with the support of the Opération Villages Roumains - Suisse association and the Swiss contribution to the enlarged EU, has become involved.

Three people place their hands on top of each together in a  collective gesture of their collaboration.
In the National Museum of the Firemen there is an exhibit dedicated to the Swiss fire service. It is a gesture of the gratitude of Romania's inspectorate of emergency situations to the Swiss project members it has worked with for more than four years. © SDC

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.

Swiss Contribution in Romania

Romania is one of the 13 states to have joined the EU since 2004 and as such receives support from Switzerland's contribution to the enlarged EU. The enlargement contribution helps to reduce economic and social disparities within the EU. Switzerland's contribution to Romania amounts to CHF 181 million and was adopted by the Swiss Parliament in 2009. Switzerland is implementing some 60 projects in Romania that are funded by the enlargement contribution. A special priority of the projects in Romania is the foundation of partnerships between the two countries.