ATHENS - Agence France-Presse
A Roma boy walks at a burned Roma encampment, where the fire broke out in the industrial zone of Athens on June 20, 2012 . AFP photo
Greece's new public order minister told reporters on Thursday that one of his main concerns was effectively fighting the forest fires that plague the Mediterranean country in the summer.
"When I took on (the new post) I believed that public safety was the main issue, but I saw that the (big) problem lay elsewhere," said Nikos Dendias, who took over the post after elections on June 17.
"The main problem right now is fire-fighting," he said.
Lack of funds has taken its toll on the fire service and Dendias said the country needs to draw on "European experience" and create a big voluntary section so as to cut down on costs.
"We need to look at the volunteer model," he said, referring to Austria and Switzerland. "We must all contribute towards that goal... All Europeans are using volunteers." "We don't need to (re)invent the wheel. We just have to look at examples from other countries" where the difference in the cost of running an effective fire service is "overwhelming." Dendias added that he is hoping to obtain backup help from abroad and that he has already been in touch with the Italian ambassador in Greece
regarding the possibility of aerial reinforcements from the neighbouring country.
Greece suffers from scores of fires every summer, with high temperatures and strong winds playing their part. Many cases are often attributed to arson, but perpetrators are rarely caught.
The country is also under pressure to slash state salaries, including those of fire-fighters, under austerity measures adopted in return for EU-IMF loans.