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Budapest Fire Service celebrates 140 years | Dávid Harangozó

Budapest Fire Service celebrates 140 years

In the protection of Budapest, Chief Fire Officer, Major General Péter Bende aims to establish a higher culture of fire service.

The history of mankind is almost as old as the use of fire, the respect of fire and fight against the destroying effects of fire. The history of the organized fire-service, on the other hand, is much shorter, and the establishment of fire-departments suitable for the demands of modern age dates back for a relatively short time. “In Europe, this era started at the beginning of the 19th century”, says the Chief Fire Officer, Major General Péter Bende. In Hungary, the Compromise of 1867 as well as a determined hero, Count Ödön Széchenyi were needed to get professional fire services organized. Finally, 140 years ago, on Feb 1, 1870, the first professional fire department was established in Hungary – the third in Europe – and Hungary started off on the road to create an effective fire-service system based on the governing European ideas and principles”, Bende tells Diplomacy and Trade.

The 140th anniversary

The fear of fire is slumbering in everybody. A good fire fighter knows that he is fighting against an element, which could not be annihilated, but it has to be brought under control. Fire fighters are the most recognized and most valued people by the society (with much higher trustworthiness average than the police bears). In our turbulent life, they are the only certain points who are coming hurriedly when called to fire, technical rescue or a damage of a storm. “People turn to us with absolute confidence and expectation, often calling us modern gladiators and flame-knights.,” Bende says. “We are capable of doing our duty high above the ground, below the surface and deep down in the water. At the Special Rescue Unit, there are special troops, scuba divers and rescue dogs.”

Fire and numbers

“The work of our firefighters on an area of over 1,000 square kilometers can compete at an international level,” states Bende. “On an average day, there are 280 to 300 firefighters on duty protecting the residents of Budapest. In any special cases, this number can be increased. At the headquarters and the 16 regional units of the Fire Department of Budapest, there are 1,692 people working, and 1,590 of them are professional firemen, which is a little below the international standards regarding the 1 fireman/1000 citizen rate.” Dealing with fires, accidents, natural disasters, dangerous events, as well as taking security precautions, performing rescue operations, working in cooperation with the police, the ambulance and the Civil Defense are all part of their job. The location of the HQs have been chosen so that in an optimal case, the firefighters on standby can be deployed anywhere within the boundaries of Budapest in ten minutes after the alarm and not more than 15-20 minutes within the primary designated belt outside the capital. Once the alarm goes off, the boys have to be out of the department in two minutes. According to statistics, 34% of fire cases happen inside apartments and real estates, many of them at night. In most cases, fire is initiated by electricity, naked flame and smoking. In 2009, they received 2,440 false alarms, one in every 51 minutes. Luckily, the number of automatic fire-alarms and home detectors installed is growing. Last year, we officially inspected 4,400 different buildings, institutes and business locations.

For the citizens - with the citizens

Unfortunately, every other received official warnings, denunciations and penalties. “I'd like these sanctions to be taken very seriously by everyone,” Bende continues. “This is the so-called “I'm not mad at you, but for you” attitude, which guides me even when I walk in the city as a civil. In the past, relatively short period of time I've been to theatres three times and after the third visit I ordered a fire-service check-up at all theatres. If we think it through, the best way of fire-fighting is to prevent fire,” he says. “Our video team goes everywhere with the deployed units,” Bende reveals. The films they make are to demonstrate the shocking reality and play an important role in the training system. These reports also draw people's attention to the work of firemen and help them to know the activity of this organization better. According to Bende, another important issue is the fire safety education of children. “It is very important that our kids start to learn the facts and gain experiences at a very early age. The special container, which was set up on Blaha Lujza Square, has also proved to be popular and effective to demonstrate how quickly a pine can catch alight. Within the container, we furnished a small flat with a sofa, carpet and a Christmas tree at the corner, which catches fire and as the fire spreads, the temperature grows to 1,000 degrees within four minutes.
If we cannot escape from such a danger-zone in 15 minutes, we're dead.” That is why it is crucial not to impede fire-fighters on their way. “It has already occurred that we blasted with 130 decibel, equipped with all the possible flashing signal-systems and yet, in quite a bizarre way, the drivers traveling in front of us did not recognize we might have an urgent task to do. So, I believe we still have a lot to learn in the field of fire-service culture.”

Count Odon Szechenyi

Being the son of the “Greatest Hungarian”, Count István Széchenyi, Count Ödön Széchenyi was a man of outstanding abilities and active patriotism. Based on the experiences gained during his journeys in Western Europe and on the professional fire-fighting knowledge acquired in London, he started an almost seven-year struggle to develop the national fire-service to the European standard. He had precisely worked out plans concerning the professional fire-department to be organized in Pest-Buda, as well as the association of voluntary fire-fighters. On Dec 5, 1870, he founded the Hungarian National Alliance of Fire Fighters.

Saint Florian

Saint Florian!
He lives in our heart
and we pray to him…
Just forge ahead for the
holy cause
with his help it cannot be lost!

In the second part of the 3rd century, an officer called Florian served as a Roman legionnaire. When the fortress of Caecia was on fire, Florian came to rescue. His soldiers accounted his act to his superhuman strength, and he became a legend soon. Today, we respect Saint Florian as the patron of fire fighters, who embodies the essence of the fire fighter work. It reveals much about the judgment and respect of fire fighters that they are often mentioned as gladiators or flame-knights. The memory of Saint Florian is important to everyone who fears fire. Our firemen have admired him for a long time and still regard him as a hero who is – above all – in the service of the community.

Réka Alíz Francisck

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