The Hellenic Fire Service is the national agency of Greece for fire and rescue service. It is part of the Ministry for Citizen Protection.
Its mission is to provide safety for the citizens and their property. It operates during fires, forest fires, car accidents, other natural or man-made disasters and during rescue operations. Other duties include the collaboration with the other Greek security forces, prevention measures and information and/or education of the public. It currently operates 44 firefighting aircraft.
Last year saw extreme fires destroying no less than 130.000 hectares of forest with a peak in August when three people were killed and dozens injured. A large group of people needed to be evacuated to safety from several islands. Eventually, most of the fires were related to the extremely high temperatures that exceeded 47°C coupled with low humidity, but also because of incidents involving careless handling of fire by civilians and cases of arson.
To tackle these wildfires, Greece has a large aerial firefighting arsenal. Despite a significant number of national aerial firefighting assets, it is not sufficient to cover the whole of Greece with its many islands and therefore additional assets are employed annually. Erickson is since 1999 an important player with its Sikorsky S-64 Air Crane and expanded its fleet from one S-64 in 1999 to 10 S-64’s in 2021. Because of the extensive fires last year, additional help was requested from other countries and resulted in 24 countries providing 1298 firefighters, 277 vehicles and 24 helicopters/fixed-wing aircraft with 222 aerial staff. This included amongst others three Swiss AS-332L helicopters, three Serbian Bell 212 helicopters, one United Arab Emirates Bell 412 helicopter flown by a Spanish crew, two Russian Mi-8/17 helicopters, two Russian Beriev 200 Amphibious Waterbombers, two Russian IL-76 waterbombers, four Australian Bell 214 BI helicopters, two Egyptian Air Force CH-47 Chinook helicopters, two Israeli AT-802 Air Tractors (Fire Boss), two Swedish AT-802 Fire Boss aircraft, three French Canadair CL-415 Super Scooper Waterbombers and one United States Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft.
Hellenic Fire Service (Elliniki Pyrosvestiki Ypiresia)
Coordination of most of the national and international participating firefighting assets both on the ground and in the air, is conducted by the Hellenic Fire Service. This authority reports to the newly formed Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection. History of this special unit goes back to 1854 when the Greek Army was tasked with firefighting. Until that time towns and cities were responsible for their own fire protection. The year 1926 is considered being the official year of foundation of the Hellenic Fire Service when a separate firefighting branch was created within the Greek military. The branch remained under control of the Greek military until the year 1930. Since then, the Hellenic Fire Service became an independent authority reporting to the Ministry of the Interior and today: the Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection. The Hellenic Fire Service is operating nationwide having more than 13500 personnel, 1500 fire tenders, 10 firefighting vessels and well over 2500 utility vehicles.
Hellenic Fire Service Aviation Unit
When the HFS in 1998 also became responsible for combating wildfires it became apparent that the current equipment was not sufficient for all the tasks. The use of helicopters was urgently needed to respond quickly and effectively. The decision was made eventually to buy two MBB BK-117C-1 helicopters, with a third added later on, registered: SX-HFD, SX-HFE and SX-HFH. In 2005 a AS-332L.1 Super Puma (SX-HFF) was donated by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. This foundation is an international philanthropic organization donating to non-profit persons and organizations and celebrated in 2021 its 25th anniversary. A second AS-332L.1 was bought that same year registered SX-HFG. The Hellenic Fire Service Aviation Unit was officially established later in 2007 with its headquarters and dispatch center at Athens-Venizelos International Airport employing 40 personnel.
More than firefighting
Although the Hellenic Fire Service Aviation Unit’s main task is combating fires, its ancillary tasks are Search and Rescue (SAR), Helicopter Emergency Medical Service missions (HEMS), transport of firefighters and rescue workers, and transportation of government officials. For the HEMS-task the helicopters can be equipped with stretchers and accompanying medical equipment. The BK-117 can carry one, and the AS-332L.1 can carry up to three patients. Another task for the Hellenic Fire Service Aviation Unit is the transportation of the Hellenic Fire Service’s Special Unit for Disaster Management called ‘EMAK’. Regularly the unit trains hoisting operations in specific areas to enable fast and efficient deployment of these ‘Rescue-workers’. EMAK-rescue workers are highly trained to deal with major disasters like wildfires, earthquakes and industrial-, technological- and environmental hazards. There are eight EMAK-units throughout the country based at: Elefsina (1st EMAK), Thessaloniki (2nd EMAK), Heraklion/Crete (3rd EMAK), Komotini (4th EMAK), Ioannina (5th EMAK), Patra (6th EMAK), Lamia (7th EMAK) and Larissa (8th EMAK).
“We are so much more than just a firefighting unit… we also perform aerial surveillance, coordination of ground and aerial teams, transportation of firefighters and rescue-workers, HEMS, Search and Rescue and also transportation of VIP’s and government officials, and support, if needed, Police and military missions,” explains Colonel Georgios Antonakopoulos, Commander of the Hellenic Fire Service Aviation Unit.