Greek Firefighters and Rescuers Criticize Government on Deadly Fires Response

The head of Greek firemen federation and the leader of a coast guard rescue mission criticized the government for responding slow and misinforming the public on the deadly East Attica wildfires.

Dimitris Stathopoulos, the head of the firefighters’ federation spoke on Skai television Sunday saying that “apologies are owed” to the Greek people for the fires that killed 88 people.

Stathopoulos also noted that many mistakes were made in the coordination of rescue operations, while he pointed out that austerity measures hampered the ability of the Fire Department to fight Monday’s blaze.

The chief of the firefighters’ federation also said that firemen discovered the first dead body at 20:40 and notified the National Center for First Aid (EKAV) immediately.

However, during the meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with all competent ministers and the chiefs of Hellenic Police and the Fire Department that took place after 23:00, the government officials did not speak about any dead.

Stathopoulos criticized the government for downplaying the magnitude of the disaster and misinforming the public on the issue of casualties during the meeting late on Monday night.

President of the EKAV workers federation Giorgos Mathiopoulos confirmed the statement of the firemen’s unionist. “We received the first call for first aid at 18:30… and the first call for a dead person at 20:40,” he told Skai television.

Head of coast guard rescue mission: ‘We discovered the first dead before dark’

The head of a 40-strong coast guard rescue mission, Dimitris Baltakos, also spoke on Skai television on Sunday saying that they discovered the first dead long before dark.

The rescue team went to Kokkino Limanaki, a Mati beach where most of the people had fled to save themselves from the flames. “We spotted the first dead long before dark,” he said. “As the senior officer of the team, I immediately informed the military and political leadership of the ministry”.

“There were hundreds of people at sea, people who were in a very bad psychological state, people who didn’t want to leave their houses even though they had been burned. People who were searching for their loved ones, as dozens of people had lost their lives on the road to Kokkino Limanaki,” Baltakos said.

Baltakos said that his team had two boats and transferred a total of 465 to the safety of the Rafina Port. The Rafina Port Authority also transferred 700 people to Rafina, while private boats also carried many people to Rafina as well.

Greek minister admits administration knew about the dead

Minister of Shipping Panagiotis Kouroumblis admitted that the government knew about the dead during Monday’s late-night meeting but did not evaluate the information as “safe”.

Speaking on Thema radio 104.6, the minister was asked about the statement made by the coast guard mission chief and replied that, indeed, the political leadership had been informed about the dead on Monday evening.

However, Kouroumblis said, the political leadership did not want to make public the discovery of dead people because “there were people working at sea”, and evaluated the information as not safe.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras under more pressure

The Alexis Tsipras administration has been facing severe criticism over his response to the disaster, but comments from the head of the firefighters’ federation will put more pressure on the Greek leader.

In a press conference on Thursday night, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas stated that there were no operational mistakes and that if he had to face the situation again, he would respond the same way. He blamed the strong winds and hinted at arson.

“The government may have been saying there were no serious operational mistakes, but what it is not saying is that there were thousands of small mistakes,” Stathopoulos said.

Stathopoulos’ main criticism was that there was no order to evacuate Mati. He said that even though Toskas said it would be very difficult to evacuate 20,000, an evacuation order would have certainly saved some lives.