Zaragoza Firefighting Service, Spain: Redeployment
The Firefighting, Rescue and Civil Protection Service is one of the oldest services of the municipality of Zaragoza, capital of the autonomous community of Aragon, in north-east Spain. The Firefighting Service is part of the Public Services department, which also includes civil protection, rescue services and technical assistance.
The service’s staff numbers have grown considerably over the years and there are currently about 500 employees. Only six employees (1.2%) are female: three are in medical services and three are employed at operational level. At present, the hiring age is between 25 and 30 years, in comparison to previous years when it was between 18 and 20 years.
Applicants have to pass a public examination. All of the employees are civil servants of the local administration and work on a permanent contract. Vacant jobs are filled every two years. A secondary school qualification level is required, although the education levels have clearly improved and university degrees are not uncommon, such as those in engineering, information technology (IT) and law. With each generation, the level of education rises.
The average age within the force has been increasing, and the current age distribution reflects the importance of the group of older workers. More than half of the employees (60.4%) are over 45 years old and 35.7% are 50 years or older. The older workers have most likely been employed with the corps for a long time, having spent most of their professional career in the job.
The workers are represented by two trade unions, the General Union of Workers (Confederación General del Trabajo, UGT) and the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO). They approve the measures related to relief from direct intervention tasks and redeployment to auxiliary services.
The original initiative
Zaragoza has been a pioneer among the larger Spanish cities in terms of implementation of a secondary or auxiliary activity for the fire brigade. The measure dates back to the 1950s when the creation of an auxiliary service for the fire brigade was approved by plenary agreement of the Municipal Corporation, and it has continued for 50 years. In Spain, this secondary activity of the fire brigade is not common.
Initially, only posts up to captain level could transfer to the auxiliary services, but, over time, this was extended to sergeants and sergeant majors. Currently, only all higher levels in the operational services are excluded from the scheme, as is the entire technical services division.
The Zaragoza fire brigade attempts to redeploy firemen aged over 55 years. They are relieved from their direct intervention tasks and redeployed to the auxiliary services of support, education, and prevention of fire and civil and natural disasters. At present, there are 75 firemen in auxiliary services: 40 are aged over 55 years and 35 are over 60 years old.
This initiative was approved by Municipal Agreement on 10 August 1951, and, as noted above, has been continuously applied until the present day. It has proved to be a valuable practice from the point of view of both the employer and the employee, and has contributed to a low level of early retirement.
Good practice today
For over 50 years, the Zaragoza fire brigade has applied a pioneering measure for its professionals, the nature of whose work may cause physical problems in the long term and who experience a high degree of risk or distress in the course of their work. Zaragoza firefighters are entitled to be relieved from their direct intervention tasks at 55 years of age and move on to auxiliary services. Firefighters younger than 55 years can also transfer if they can prove in a medical assessment that they have health problems. The move from operational to auxiliary activities is due to age and insufficient psycho-physical capacity for carrying out the primary operational functions. It is an internal alternative career path, which aims to keep employees active, to adjust the physical aptitudes in the workplace, and to improve functional mobility. These firefighters continue to earn the same salary as in their former position.
This measure means that the employees concerned may leave active service and move into other functions that still entail a degree of direct intervention in incidents or call-outs. They are assigned to the following principal functions:
- guarding and supervision of the firemen centres (currently there are four, but this number will increase to six in the near future);
- maintenance of infrastructure, materials and equipment;
- carpentry, locksmith tasks, electrical faults, mechanical jobs where needed;
- administration, services and telecommunications;
- warehouse duties (stock control and provisioning for the centres);
- monitoring and maintenance of hydrants;
- support and information tasks to assist the operational services when attending an incident;
- recharging of fire extinguishers in all municipal buildings;
- training, including prevention and protection campaigns in secondary schools.
The secondary activities should be regarded as an alternative to early retirement and to reducing the legal retirement age. At present, a total of 75 firemen have retired from active service and have transferred to the auxiliary services. The functions that they perform now are varied and have been increasing as the infrastructure and the responsibilities of the corps grow. The jobs at this auxiliary level have become broader and more diversified.
This measure has been very well received among the members of the corps: both workers and trade union representatives regard it very favourably. Firefighters in other administrations are envious of this scheme. Similar measures are being considered for other civil servants of the same municipality.
The management recognises that the practice has allowed the corps to benefit from the accumulated experience of workers who can look back on a long professional career. Other benefits include a fall in absence due to illness and general absenteeism, and overall improvement in the health and well-being of employees. Indirect indicators for the measure’s success have been the absence of requests for transfers to other municipal services and the low level of employees taking early retirement. The Zaragoza municipality promotes early retirement from 60 years of age for all its workers. In contrast to other services, only two people in the fire brigade have so far taken up the offer. The average age of retirement from the service is 65 years for most firemen.
Given the profile of the service’s ageing workforce, with 60.4% of the employees aged 45 years or older, the number of firefighters that will benefit from the measure will increase in the coming years. They will be absorbed by the expansion of the services planned in the coming years, a development that will mean the opening of two new central stations and the implementation of the plan for the World Exhibition in 2008.
Some fire services are hoping that the measure will be applied to firefighters at national level. However, some trade unions insist that early retirement remains the best option.
Contact: Ricardo Escanero, Fire Officer, email: email@example.com
Unitarian Firemen’s Platform Website: www.plataformabomberos.com