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    FIRE SERVICE IN CROATIA

    A HISTORICAL REVIEW

    Rich tradition as a foundation
    As early as in 1864 Croatia proved to be able to keep pace with the new ideas of those times within the European fire services, at turn of the feudal rigidity into the democratic movement of the new bourgeois society (1846), when the first fire fighting unit, later brigade, was founded in terms of new and fresh ideas and on the initiative of Carl Metz from Durlach in Germany.

    There was really a minimal time difference of only 18 years between that initial year in Germany (1846) and foundation of the new Croatian fire service in Varaždin (1864). Aim of the fire brigade was to fulfill its duty of a modern and efficient fire protection of property as well as saving human lives jeopardized by fire (and later by other natural disasters as well).

    Volunteer fire brigades were formed in many towns after Varazdin. The second one was founded in Sisak in 1865, then in Otočac in 1868, Ludbreg in 1869, Zagreb in 1870, Karlovac and Nova Gradiška in 1871 and so on.
    Due to some newly found documents the professional fire service in Croatia has a long tradition as well. The Rijeka Fire Brigade has the longest tradition, since 1863.
    The first rural volunteer fire brigade was founded in a village Hrženica near Ludbreg in 1872.

    An aspiration of making the fire service more efficient and well organized led to a foundation of the Croato-Slavonian Firefighting Association back on 5th of July 1876, making a network of voluntary fire brigades and covering a great part of Croatia.

    Modern Croatian fire service thus proves, with full and rich tradition from the very beginning, its uninterrrupted belonging, in time and pursuits, to the European humane civilization, contributing essentially to the entire entry of Croatia and the people of Croatia into the civilization and the historic course of the development of Middle and West Europe. It was recognized and confirmed at an international level on 25th September 1992 in Albena (Bulgaria) by joining of the Croatian Fireprotection Society (national fire brigades association of Croatia) with the CTIF i.e. the International Technical Committee for Fire Prevention and Extinguishing.

    International ideals
    Long lasted that innefficient medieval fire night watch of the guilds equipped only with fire buckets full of water. At that time great fires destroyed easily whole, in architectural terms, too dendely inhabited towns and numerous reports give evidence of burnt down houses, and hundreds, even thousands of victims of fires. So in the year 1689 the Great Fire of Copenhagen (Denmark) claimed 300 victims, in 1794 in Capodistria (Italy) 1000, in 1645 in Canton (China) even 1400, then in 1876 in New York (USA) 286 people were killed, in 1881 in Vienna (Austria) 600 etc. Our Zagreb (the capitol) experienced its own disastrous fires in 1645 and 1674, and even the cradle of our modern fire service, the baroque town of Varazdin, remembers its destroying great fires from the year 1582 and especially 1776 and again from 1808 and 1827. Those great fires in towns got in raging storms disastrous dimensions and burnt down whole overpopulated quarters, even whole towns. Similar situation, caused by inflammable materials and windy weather, can be found today in warm regions (for example in the Mediterranean on the whole, but also on our touristically important Adriatic coast) despite the modern fire fighting organization and the most sophisticated aircraft technique and strategy. In contrast to the entirely inefficient and powerless fire protection of the Middle Ages, the new and more dynamic bourgeois society, undergoing gradual industrialization, created most forward ideas and found solutions in more efficient volunteer fire protection with full engagement of the jeopardized people. The fully new, positive and successful initiative to the modernizing of fire protection was given by the German technician Carl Metz in Durlach, a small town near the well known of Karlsruhe on the Rhine. There he organized the first volunteer fire fighting unit (later brigade) made up of citizens.

    A rule by Carl Metz from 1846 should be remembered about the highest priorities in organizing and evaluating of the human factor which is going to be "free of cost and continuously ready for action" of fighting the fire, and that: 1. organized in troops, 2. technically equipped, 3. strategically united with the firefighting equipment and agents, 4. doing it on the pure humanitarian basis of an mutual civilized solidarity, and 6. doing it in the conviction that with the united powers and technical capacities he can fight the fire (and other natural disasters) successfully as well as efficiently rescue jeopardised lives.
    In the development of the Croatian fire service a remarkable stress is laid on a higher form of organizing into associations - unions at the level of municipality, district, region and nowadays at a county level and even to the organizing at the level of the republic and the state, and that from that first Croato-Slavonian Firefighting Association (from 1876) to the Croatian Fire Services Association of today (from 1993).
    The enclosed historic survey shows all these forms of higher organizing, but also all the meanders of their non-state establishment and status which had to wait for years for legal regulations and alterations, despite the repeated demands at fire brigade meetings.
    Among the most often repeated demands for a good function of fire service, was the question of financing of this humanitarian organization, the activity of which can of course be realized only at increased costs necessary in the adequate growing of fire hazards, in the process of industrialization, in the development of the standard of life, and also in the increasing number of material damages caused by forest fires, especially on the Adriatic coast in summer.
    In some years a dramatic fighting is going on at the scene of fire streching for miles, with a heavy pall of smoke hanging over it, where "earth and sky" seem to be burning. Trees and bushes are often burning in hard to reach areas, so that aircrafts "Canadairs" remain the only hope.

    Fire service as a part of independent country
    In this study an adequately great attention has to be paid to the development, role and activities of the Croatian fire service in the sovereign and independent country - the Republic of Croatia, after the historic Sovereignty Day on 30th May 1990 and after the proclamation of its own constitution at the end of the same year. At that time a staged up-rising of the Serbs living in Croatia took place and the Yugoslav so-called Army supported them and took an active part in the war of conquest in Croatia. This has been a direct war of conquest since summer 1991 where the defence, protection and rescuing are the three fundamentals of the continuance and the existence of the free Croatia and people of Croatia, the Croatian Army being the first one, the military medical service the second, and the Croatian fire service indisputably the third one: repeated, the fire service is a fundamental of the continuance and existence of our country as state and of the Croats as free patriotic nation capable of living a free life, appreciated by the whole freedom-liking mankind and especially esteemed because of its successful protection from the attacks of a far superior crude barbarian aggressor.

    Among the greatest successes is the heroic, skilful and strategically brilliantly led fire defence of the Refinery of Sisak. There the enemy threatened with an ecological disaster because more than 30 000 tons of petroleum and its inflammable products flew out from the shell-hit containers into the river Sava near Sisak creating an oil slick which was more than 100 km long, however the aggressor did not succeed in setting fire to that floating danger because its inflammability ar explosiveness were masterly neutralized (using foam by the fire brigade of the Refinery, being awarded by the highest authorities of the State and the people Croatia.
    The fires in the Refinery of Sisak got alarming dimensions of the great fires of Europe, from which the firemen of Sisak came out as undisputed victors over the barbaric aggressor who failed to devastate the Refinery, to destroy the town of Sisak, or to set on fire the entire downstream Posavina, and that would have been a real ecological disaster. The most important thing: the aggressor failed to deprive Croatia of fuel.

    Croatian firefighters (both full-time and volunteer ones) gave a invaluable contribution to a battle for freedom, by using their skill, humanity and great bravery presented while lives and property from war fires. Many of them took active role in army units. More than 260 of them were killed, 385 were injured, and 22 of them were killed when fighting fires. More than 200 fire brigades had a great damage on their property - 259 firehouses were destroyed as well as 206 portable fire pumps, 349 firefighting vehicles and many other equipment. Direct loss (total) of Croatian fire service is estimated to 440 million kunas (60 million EUR)

    Interesting historical facts
    Two leading historic fire service personalities have to be mantioned in the historic development of the Croatian fire service: the ideologist (and "father") Gjuro Deželić and the organizer (and "teacher" Mirko Kolarić). Their contribution is to the full extent marked as legendary in the modernized fire service of our country. They laid the foundations of the fire service tradition and created a positive image of a fireman and bequethed it to their nation.

     

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    Members of the Managing Board of the Croato-Slavonian Firefighting Association (in 1895). Mr. Gjuro Deželić, president of the Association sits in middle, while Mr. Mirko Kolarić, sesretary of the association, stands third from left

    In 1896 "Vatrogasni vjesnik" (eng. Fire Service Courier"), a monthly vocational magazine is published as the official publication of Association, celebrating 120 years of its existence in 2016, together with 140 years of the Croatian Fireprotection Society.

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    Front page of the Croatian fire service magazine

    Since the establishing of the new and independent Republic of Croatia worshipping of St. Florian, as the patron saint of firemen, has been restored, which the volunteer fire brigades introduced at the very beginning of their foundation.

    CROATIAN FIRE SERVICE TODAY

    Present Croatian fire service, right from its beginning, testifies with a long tradition that it has been a part of European civilization, giving its contribution to a cultural development at the same time.

    Fire protection is regulated through the Law of Fire Protection, Law of Fire Service and the Law of Civil Protection System as well as their sub-regulations and corresponding acts and orders of districts, cities and municipalities.

    According to the Croatian Constitution, fire service is matter of local municipalities. Professional and voluntary fire brigades and their members are equal regarding the fulfillment of their duties, whereas professional fire brigades are organized according to the Law of Public Institutions and voluntary fire brigades are based on the Law of Associations of Citizens.

    Beside a voluntary and professional fire brigades, local community governing bodies are very important factor as well. They have an obligation based on a their Plan of Fire Protection to form and equip their fire brigades.

    Each fire brigade and association of fire brigades has a commander, who is responsible for interventions, preparedness and education of firefighters on his territory. Every voluntary fire brigade and association has a president, who is representing it and is responsible for its development and promotion.

    The national fire service commander is employee of the National Rescue and Protection Directorate. He is responsible for interventions, preparedness and education of firefighters in Croatia, and Chairman of the Croatian Firefighting Association is one of his assistants. The national fire service commander takes over the command in calls where operational activities are spread over 2 or more counties, or if aerial firefighting means are involved.

    Present statistics
    Centenial tradition of voluntary fire service in Croatia undoubtedly is a basic pillar of the modern fire service made up of:

    • 65 public professional fire brigades,
    • 1835 voluntary fire brigades,
    • 34 professional industrial fire brigades,
    • 56 voluntary industrial fire brigades,
    • 4 rapid response units of the National Rescue and Protection Directorate (located in coastal towns of Zadar, Šibenik, Split and Dubrovnik),
    • special ground firefighting units and aerial firefighting unit of the Ministry of Defense (6 Canadairs CL 415, 6 Air Tractors 802 A Fire Boss, Mi-8 amd 117 Š helicopters of the Croatian Army).

     

    Efficiency of whole fire protection system is based on a collaboration between all fire service units.

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    Croatian Canadair CL - 415 in action (Foto: Hrvoje Jelavić/PIXSELL)

    National Rescue and Protection Directorate has 5 departments out of which one is the Educational Center for Protection, Rescue and Fire Service, located in Zagreb, where firefighters and rescue personell are educated. That facility also includes equipment inspection and normisation services. Croatian standards regarding protection and safety are being suggested there as well.

    Out of total of around 62000 operative firefighters in Croatia, around 56500 of them are voluntary firefighters in towns and municipalities, 1600 are voluntary firefighters in industrial fire brigades, 2400 are professional firefighters in professional public fire brigades, 240 are professional firefighters in voluntary fire brigades and 778 are professional industrial firefighters.

    Fire service in Croatia records between 35000 and 40000 interventions per year, including around 13000 interventions on fires, 12000 technical interventions and 14000 interventions of other types.

    All fire brigades are united in fire brigade associations which are founded at the level of municipalities, towns, districts and counties. At the middle level they all form 20 county fire brigade associations plus the Zagreb Fire Brigades Association, and all of them are unfied into the Croatian Firefighting Association.

    Voluntary fire brigades and fire brigade associations are financed by local municipalities (up to 5 % of their basic budget income) and the Croatian Firefighting Association is financed by the national budget. Territorial professional fire brigades are financed by the national budget based on minimal financial standards. Important incomes of fire brigade associations come from a 5% rate of the property fire insurance policies.
    Additional incomes for fire brigades are special governmental programmes (e. g.  from 2002-2009 210 firefighting vehicles were financed mainly by the government), percentage of forest protection taxes and additional financing from local municipalities for firefighting equipment.

     

    Short video about the fire service in Varaždin County, cradle of Croatian fire service

    Croatian Firefighting Association

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    Amblem of the Croatian Fireprotection Society

    Croatian Firefighting Association is a vocational and humanitarian association made up of professional fire brigades, volunteer fire brigades and their associations at all levels, joined in order to realize their common goals and tasks.

    Basic goal of the Croatian Firefighting Association is to develop and modernize all fire protection activities in the Republic of Croatia in harmony with technical achievements and experience worldwide, as well as to direct activities of its membership in the field of fire service and fire protection.

    It takes care about the vocational education of its members and collaborates with educational organisations and national bodies. This programmes include conferences and seminars, fire brigades' sporting competitions and all other informative public happenings of special interest to fire service and fire protection.

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    Firefighters gathered at the Zagreb's main square on 7th of May 2016 during the official celebration of 140 years of the Croatian Fireprotection Society

     

    Documentary describing a 140 years of history of Croatian fire service and its present activities

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    If being in Croatia and you spot a fire - call 193!