Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

In case of emergency

It's pretty dry in Spain at the moment. Occasional stories about the state of the reservoirs turn up in the media every now and again and there are forest and scrub fires reported all the time - some of them burn out of control for days. Often the news story says that the fire was provoked by human intervention. This does not always mean that someone set the fires deliberately (though that is amazingly common) but it does include the sparks from the summer barbecue, the fag end tossed, carelessly, out of the car window and the garden waste fire getting out of control.

Lots of the fire engines in Spain are designed to deal with forest fires. The bodywork sits on great big wheels and the vehicles are intended for off road as well as on road use. We've seen both aeroplanes and helicopters dropping water on fires. There is a special unit of the military - Unidad Militar de Emergencias - whose job is to intervene in national catastrophes. The hillsides have fire breaks cut into them (although one of the common complaints in the aftermath of a fire is that the fire breaks were badly maintained because of budget cuts and did not do their job), the motorway signs remind people of the heavy penalties for dumping cigarette ends from vehicles, you need a licence to burn garden waste which lays down all sorts of restrictions and there are campaigns to recruit volunteers to staff watchtowers in vulnerable areas. In short there is an awareness of the possibility of countryside fires and measures to deal with them. Indeed, in our own garden one of the reasons we maintain lots of weed free bare earth is because a Spaniard warned us of the possibility of fire there.

We went to see the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France today. A little before that we'd popped in to browse a Mediaeval fayre in Almansa. Wherever there is a Spanish event there are always lots of uniforms to keep it functioning. Local police, the Red Cross, sometimes Guardia Civil (the militarised police force) or the CNP - the National Police - and Civil Protection.

As we walked from the parked car to the Mediaeval fayre I noticed a Protección Civil vehicle parked up. In the back were a bundle of tools that looked like heavy duty garden rakes and other stuff which I guessed were for dealing with fire. I was a bit surprised. Protección Civil are always at any sort of event. If I've ever thought anything at all about Civil Protection I've thought of them as being a bit like unpaid Police Community Support Officers, like stewards for events, like the marshalls for car races - extra hands to help the police and public administrations keep things organised.

The three Protección Civil people, wearing their distinctive dark blue uniforms trimmed with bright orange, who were strolling through the fayre were the usual sort of volunteers. I don't actually remember them but, almost certainly, they would have been young or old, men or women, fat or thin and with or without glasses. In short they look ordinary. I would never think of them as being particularly "professional". A bit sort of Dad's Army. That may be the case but a quick look at Wikipedia suggests otherwise. It tells me that Protección Civil has a hierarchial command structure (presumably professional and paid posts) supported by lots and lots of trained volunteers. I learned that Civil Protection is written into the Spanish Constitution and that each level of Government has to contribute to civil protection plans. The personnel seem to have to take part in a fair bit of training and drills and, amongst their roles, a key one is fire fighting and rescue operations.

It's strange how things just become commonplace. The Civil Protection people are just there and it was only seeing that set of tools which made me wonder. Let's hope they don't have to use them.

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