Polish “Ironman” firefighters welcomed as heroes as they battle Sweden’s raging forest blaze
As Sweden grapples with vast forest fires, Poland is among the countries offering a helping hand – or rather, 140 pairs of hands.
Since last week, Polish firemen have been in Sweden as part of a broader European effort to put out the fires, where they have been greeted warmly by local people and the authorities alike.
More than half of Sweden’s territory is covered by forest. With very little rain since May, the situation remains tense, and temperatures set to hit 30 degrees Celsius again, the situation remains serious.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon (Monday), Poland’s Chief Commandant of the State Fire Service, General Brigadier Leszek Suski said: “We will be there as long as we need to be, we have prepared for two weeks, because this is the standard, but if they are two months, we will be helping for two months.
“Please do not be afraid that this will weaken our resources in the country. We have 31,000 firefighters in the country, we have almost 6,500 vehicles, also 44 vehicles that went there (to Sweden - PAP) are only part of our forces and resources.”
Although the number of fires fell over the weekend, the risk of fire remains high. With support from Poland and other European countries, the Swedish authorities are in a race against time to tame the fires.
Several EU countries have responded to an official request by the Swedish authorities, made under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which was established in 2001 to foster cooperation among national civil protection authorities across Europe.
In addition to Poland, France, Germany and Denmark have sent personnel to Sweden. Italy, France and Portugal have provided water-bombing aircraft, and Norway, Germany and Lithuania have sent helicopters.
The team of almost 140 Polish firemen, accompanied by 44 rescue and firefighting vehicles, set off for Sweden on July 21. Most of them come from Poland’s western Zachodniopomorskie and Wielkopolskie regions, with some from the Mazowsze region around Warsaw and firefighters' headquarters.
After crossing the Baltic by ferry from the Polish port of Świnoujście, they travelled on to the region of Sveg, in central Sweden.
Driving through Swedish towns, the convoy of Polish fire engines was greeted by waving locals. One sign in Polish hung from a viaduct said “Welcome heroes.”
Grateful Roger Svensson, posting on the Polish Embassy’s Twitter page, wrote: “This is so damn good to see. Polish fire figthers (sic) on their way to rescue us from the fire. Feels like ironman is coming Thank you Polen.”
Commenting on the arrival of the Polish firefighters, Swedish daily Aftonbladet wrote: “Sweden is not alone in the fight against fire.”
Responding to a tweet by Swedish minister for social affairs Annika Strandhäll expressing her appreciation for Poland’s help, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki replied that “We’re always happy to help our friends”.
Having reached its destination in Sveg, the Polish team has been familiarising itself with the situation on the ground. The firefighters are staying in long tents, flanked by tall conifers.
They plan to stay there for up to 14 days, during which they will be self-sufficient, without requiring support from the Swedish authorities.
Polish firefighters participating in the mission see it as a chance to gain valuable experience as part of a broader European effort, while showing their solidarity with the Swedes.