This is what data provided by the Portuguese Firefighters League point out, referring to the last 40 years. During this period, 231 firefighters died, with 94 deaths, 41% of the total, occurring when the victims were travelling in fire fighting vehicles.
Diogo was 21 years old and was a firefighter for the Proença-a-Nova Volunteers. During a manoeuvre, last weekend, in the Oleiros fire, a tyre blew, he lost control of the car, and overturned. The young man became the 94th firefighter to lose his life in a road accident while responding to a fire. This is, in fact, the leading cause of death for firefighters on duty in the last 40 years.
The year 2020 is not over yet, but it is already the one that most fatalities count in the last seven years. By the beginning of this week, four men had died in the fire attack. It is necessary to go back to 2013, the year in which nine firefighters died, to have such a high number of fatalities.
The figures are contained in a data set compiled by the Portuguese Firefighters League and sent to Renascença. The collection begins in 1980, and besides counting deaths per year, it identifies, for example, the districts and the causes and circumstances in which the firefighters who were in the performance of their duties died. In total, in the past four decades, 231 volunteers have died.
The year 1985, in which the great Aramark fire occurred, was the deadliest for firefighters. In total, 18 victims were counted. The following year, 1986, and 2005 were the other two years to record the most deaths in the past four decades. There were 16 each year.
The president of the League of Firefighters, Jaime Marta Soares, frames the preponderance of road accidents with the need to be quick in action. He does not consider that the number is disproportionate in relation to the type of functions performed by these men and women, “for whom risk is an almost daily activity”.
“They are often mechanical failures, situations that cannot be explained by the lack of care in driving or the irresponsibility of driving. These are situations that happen within the risk of walking on the road and on roads such as the Portuguese”, said Marta Soares.
The president of the League of Firefighters also speaks of the lack of a culture of responsibility on national roads, which manifests itself on many occasions, and which also affects firefighters. And it rejects the idea of a lack of training in risk driving, which can lead to the proportion of road accidents as a cause of death for firefighters being so high.
“Firefighters exercise and train on and off the road, on the road, in everything. Portuguese firefighters have training that ordinary people would like to have when they are given a driving license”, he defends.
Xavier Viegas, an expert on forest fires who coordinates the Center for Studies at the University of Coimbra, agrees that emergency driving is a major factor in the number of fatalities among firefighters and the Renaissance begins by pointing out the characteristics of roads as a cause.
“They drive with some haste on roads that are narrow and winding, in rough terrain, which can lead to loss of control of the vehicle”, he reports. And on many occasions, vehicles are loaded. “The water in the tanks sways and can facilitate loss of balance, not to mention mechanical failures”, says Viegas.
Finally, he talks about the “fatigue” that can occur in the return of a fire that “can take more than a day”. “Loss of attention can lead to an accident,” he concludes.
Still, Xavier Viegas argues that important steps have been taken to address these problems.
“The authorities are now much more careful. The firefighters do not travel in the auto-tanks, they make it possible to have transport in other means, and that there is a reinforcement of the teams and a rotation with shorter periods that allows the staff to rest and feed ”, he explains.
He underlines that Portugal is now planning better, for example in terms of logistics. “Things are definitely better, we have taken very important steps”, he guarantees.