Elite forest firefighters to strike at height of season over poor pay


THE elite group of specialist firefighters who make up the Reinforcement Forest Fire Brigades (BRIF) have called an indefinite strike as of Monday to protest about their poor working conditions.
There are 10 units of BRIF distributed across Spain, made up by experts, physical trainers, officers trained on GIFs (great forest fires), as well as helicopter pilots, and all of them are employed by the company Tragsa, which belongs to the Spanish Agriculture, Alimentation and Environment Ministry.
The BRIF is considered an elite body for forest firefighters, which the different local governments turn to when their own professionals are not able to stop the blaze by themselves.
This year they have already taken part tackling the flames in Cinco Villas (Zaragoza) where 14,000 hectares burnt in three days, in Guadalajara, Castellon and Burgos. Their salary is just €16,100 per year.
These workers have been demanding an improvement to their working conditions for years, by occupying public institutions and protesting, although to no avail. This month they have already interrupted their working hours three times, with 70 per cent of guaranteed minimum services. And the workers have also voluntarily attended forest fires in areas such as Leon or Huesca even while on strike, wearing black shirts as a sign of protest.
Three main requests are being put forward by the team: the recognition of this group within the category of forest firefighter, being considered as performing a “second activity” which would allow them to not be fired when they reach a certain age or have a physical injury – receiving a compensation or benefits instead – and new salary bonuses to compensate for a dangerous work place, in case of toxic accidents and death, amongst other potential hazards.
“This work is very physically demanding and there is a certain age when our bodies will not stand a summer campaign,” they said. “We need institutions to recognise the risk we are putting ourselves in and an improvement in our conditions because we are doing a very hard and dangerous job and there are months we earn less that €800.”
Members of the BRIF work eleven months per year. When there are no fires they carry out prevention work, physical training and other practices. Every year they have to pass the ‘backpack test’ in which they have to run wearing a 20-kilo backpack for 45 minutes and complete 12 rounds in an athletic court. If they do not pass, they are dismissed until the following year. If they fail two years in a row, the company is allowed to fire them.
“We risk our lives and we want our families to be covered if something happens to us or we need to retire due to age or injury,” they finished.



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