Croatian Mountain Rescue Service Takes Part in Firefighting Efforts

Total Croatia News

The Croatian emergency services system is not known for its efficiency, but the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service is a major exception.

After disastrous fires that hit Dalmatia last week, Index talked with the head of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service (HGSS) Vinko Prizmić. The HGSS helped firefighters extinguish fires and evacuate residents from vulnerable areas, reports on 24 July 2017.

Although firefighting is not their primary activity, nor were they at first equipped for fighting fires, Prizmić said that, without the help of the HGSS, some locations would not have been saved.

How did the HGSS engage in the firefighting efforts?

The HGSS is an operational force of the civil protection system, and from the first moment, we were at the disposal of the firefighting command. At first, our help was not needed, but when the fires approached a forest on Mosor where the hiker’s lodge is located, we sent twenty members to try to defend it. We have also gathered another 80 rescuers and sent them to Žrnovnica to be put at the disposal of the fire brigade. We know how to work in difficult conditions, so in this situation, our good organisation has proved useful.

Teams were formed gradually, and in parallel, we equipped them with firefighting equipment which we do not normally have. Some of the equipment was taken from a warehouse of the State Protection and Rescue Service; part was borrowed from the Marjan Forest Park and other municipal services in the county, for example from Sinj, which was now in danger. Our people are very experienced and worked at 13 separate locations.

At the same time, we were available to help the Emergency Medical Service with rescue teams in situations where they could not access individual sites, especially at Privor, where we pulled people out of vulnerable houses and carried out evacuations. Cooperation with firefighters was flawless, and we functioned as a single team. Some locations like those on Mosor and in some other not easily accessible places would not have been saved without us.

Our organisation of 100 people and 15 vehicles, with a special communication system and our command vehicle from which we coordinated the work of our teams in the field, all that gave a significant contribution in this difficult situation. And we could have brought together a few hundred more members from all over Croatia. We have not been part of firefighting plans until now, but I am confident that will change. Of course, we do not want to do the job of firefighters, but we can be a good support, just like they help us in our operations and searches.

How did the government react to this catastrophe?

I do not intend defending them, but the government, just like everyone else, can respond only if it is aware of the events. In this case, I suppose that, at first, those who were managing the firefighting efforts did not expect such a catastrophic and rapid development of the situation, nor did they feel the need for additional support. I am convinced that, in spite of all the criticisms, there is no government which would ignore a call for help.

How do you comment on the fact that it took two days for the government to hold a meeting of the emergency committee?

Unfortunately, catastrophes are often used for political promotion and conflicts, which makes me sad. People should be helped as much as possible, and that is the only important thing. Catastrophes and disasters generally unite people; it would be good for politicians to act similarly. As an individual who has been involved in dealing with disasters for almost 45 years, I know that there is always an attempt to find someone to blame, but this can often be very irrational.

When someone is on holiday or having a dinner, while other people are in a difficult situation, it naturally irritates people, especially since strong emotions are felt in such moments. It is more important to analyse what an individual politician did to make the system better. It is less important if some politician came too late or was at a dinner somewhere.

Should President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović have cancelled her official dinner in Salzburg and gone to Split immediately?

It would be nice if she came. People expect their elites to be with them when they are in a difficult situation. Wise politicians know that. Sometimes their arrival is far more than a sign of support, encouragement or compassion. In some exceptional circumstances, that can be transformed into leadership and driving force, and then we can say they are leaders. In this case, this was a fire, and nothing special would have happened with that dinner or without it, except that people would have experienced it more positively.

Is this the biggest catastrophe that has hit Croatia since the floods in 2014?

I think it is, though there were no human lives lost. An area of ​​4,500 hectares was hit, people were vulnerable to the fire, and there is catastrophic damage to nature, flora and fauna. This is a catastrophe that has turned our paradise on Mosor into a wasteland. I am satisfied that we have managed to save some parts of Mosor, but I wonder how much time will pass before it returns to normal. We have started planning for afforestation, but who will bring back birds, lizards and many other animal and plant species?

Do you believe that the fires were started intentionally?

I cannot say that for sure, but there is a chance that they were. Due to long-lasting droughts and high winds, conditions were ideal for someone intent on doing the most damage. However, fires of similar scales have hit other European countries as well.

Translated from


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