Amsterdam Treat introduced in 1997 the term “enhanced cooperation”, which is a tool that allows even to a restricted number of Member States to propose initiatives aiming at the seeking and development of actions in certain fields.
In February 2006, the national Civil Protection authorities of Italy, France, Portugal and Spain discussed on the meaning of the planning and implementation of joint actions to be taken in cases of natural disasters and emergencies emphasizing in the Mediterranean area.
On May, 19, 2006 the Secretary Generals of Civil Protection of these (4) countries jointly signed a common declaration on the “Operational cooperation within the European Civil Protection Mechanism” entitled “FIRE 4” in Graz.
This idea reflects the result of multiple experiences gained during joint operations having taken place in the area, while it is the first step of an enhanced cooperation agreement among the (4) countries in the field of Civil Protection by focusing, mainly, in mutual assistance in cases of emergency. These (4) countries further prepared the common proposal, which was accepted in March 2007 by the European Union as a pilot programme.
It was under these principles that “Force d’ Intervention Rapide Europeenne 4”, known as FIRE 4, meaning the transboundary cooperation, became true.
The Steering Committee of FIRE 4 consists of the representatives of the national Civil Protection authorities of Italy, France, Portugal and Spain; it is also possible, that the same representatives of the “cooperating countries” are also invited; those of Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary.
Greece initially belonged to the cooperating countries. On February 18, 2008, during the 2nd meeting of the programme’s Steering Committee with the participation of the Secretary General for Civil Protection, Greece became a full member of the initiative and the programme, thus, changing its position from a cooperating into a participating country.
The Steering Committee and the European Union unanimously and jointly agreed to rename the programme into FIRE 5.
FIRE 5 is an integrated part of the European Civil Protection Mechanism and, at the same time, closely interwoven with it. Its main goal is the definition of joint operational procedures for the (5) countries in forest fires and earthquakes for the enhancement of the preventive and responsive ability of the European Civil Protection Teams. The programme also presents a significant improvement possibility of the operational ability of the Modules that has been defined by the European Union together with the Member States.
FIRE 5 started on May 1, 2007 and shall be brought to an end on November 1, 2009. During this 30 – month – programme exercises, seminars, exchanges of experts, special workshops and communication equipment supply will take place, thus, aiming at the definition of the composition of multinational teams for the evaluation, operational involvement and the joint operational plans and procedures.
A major real forest fire exercise entitled “FIRE SARDINIA 2008” took place in Italy in April 2008. Air forces from Spain (CL-215T), France (CL-415, DASH 8), Greece (CL-415) and Italy (CL-415) participated in it, together with ground forced from the (5) countries (Portugal, Italy, Spain, France and Greece). More than (30) aerial means were collected and participated in real air firefighting operations in mixed, multinational forms, while ground forces exceeded the (500) firemen.
Apart from its participation in this exercise, Greece has participated in almost all of the programme’s actions so far, as well as in the meetings of the National Representatives.
Greece participated in the major real forest fire exercise entitled “FIRE 5 SARDINIA 2008” (17-19/04/2008) in Sardinia, through the 1st EMAK (Hellenic Special Disaster Response Unit) with (2) Canadair aircrafts CL-415 and a land force group of (15) people.
As it is well known, Greece became a full member of the “FIRE 4” initiative after extensive efforts made by the General Secretariat for Civil Protection on February 18, 2008 in Rome, Italy, during the 2nd Steering Committee. This exercise, organized under the Italian presidency was the first major common action of this Initiative in the context of the European Programme “FIRE 5” with the participation of all its involving countries.
Under the general coordination of the General Secretariat for Civil Protection, the Greek participation in SARDINIA 2008 has covered all the training and operational actions of the exercise as well as the full involvement of the air firefighting operations, tactical special land operations, while officials from the Hellenic Air Force and the Fire Service worked as contact persons at the DICOMAC (Direction of Command and Control) and at the Air Operational Centre of Olbia.
The scenario of the exercise, generally, focused on the commencement and spreading of forest fires taking place under adverse weather conditions and very close to populated areas in Sardinia. Initially, the immediate response was made by land and air forces of Italy, while, further on, the country called for assistance in the context of the European Civil Protection Mechanism through the activation of the FIRE 5 Initiative. As a result, firefighting aircrafts of the types CL-415 & CL-215T were mobilized by Spain, France and Greece as well as land firefighting forces from Portugal, Spain, France and Greece. In total, more than (30) firefighting aircrafts and (20) firefighting helicopters were gathered, while the involvement of the land forces of the (5) countries exceeded (1000) people including the Italian land forces.
After the exercise was brought to an end, a special meeting was held during which participated the Secretary General for Civil Protection of France, of Greece, of Portugal, the head of the local authority of Sardinia, the Representative of the EU, as well as high ranking officials from almost all the European Member States and the countries of Northern Africa.
The exercise was ended with an impressive air show at the airport of Olbia, in which participated all the firefighting air forces.
The exercise was viewed by observers from all the European Member States including observers from Russia, Turkey, the United States, the United Nations and NATO, while the international press covered extensively the operational part of the exercise as well as the air show.
The Greek Secretary General for Civil Protection who observed the exercise congratulated the Commander and the crews of the Greek aircrafts as well as the 1st EMAK on their participation and underlined that most of his counterparts congratulated him on the Greek mission and participation.
A certain proof of the recognition of the FIRE 5 and EU partners as for the Greek experience on major scale forest fires is the fact that almost all the Evaluation Report of the General Secretariat for Civil Protection on the exercise SARDINIA 2008 was adopted by the EU at the special evaluation meeting that took place on June 18, 2008 in Brussels.