Toespraak Annemie Turtelboom @ Eurofire conferentie 2009 te Brugge

Dear Mr. Soete,

Dear firemen,

Ladies and gentlemen

Mr. Soete has welcomed you here in this very historic building. The belfry is the landmark of this old city of Bruges. It is one of the few remaining examples of urban architecture of the early fourteenth century to the north of the Alps.

Now what is interesting for you to know, is that the belfry was build in the decades after 1280. This was after the previous building, still a construction in wood, burnt down. Bruges was at that time the largest port in Western Europe. The city was rich and it decided to build a new and far higher belfry in stone, still a precious construction material at that time.

The purpose of such a belfry was twofold. It was of course an outlook, from which the whole town could be called up whenever a fire broke out or when an army was nearing the gates. But it also contained the sealed perchaments on which the landlord – in this case the count of Flanders – had recognized and sealed the liberties of the city.

These were precious documents, that were kept high up in the tower, the last rampart against fire and enemy intrusion. As the old belfry had gone up in fire in 1280, the old perchament with the liberties had been destroyed too. It took a few years of political wrangling between the city and the count before a new one was agreed on.

So you see, ladies and gentleman, safety against fire has been a major preoccupation of people for centuries, indeed ever since mankind exists.

And so it still is one of the major preoccupations of every Home Secretary in every country. The state is still seen as the final insurer of every citizen against catastrophes. I could add that these days even banks and financial institutions recognize this.

Mesdames, Messieurs,

La politique d’un ministre en ce qui concerne la sécurité contre le feu, repose sur deux pilliers : la prévention anti-incendie et la lutte contre l’incendie. Ce sont des sujets qui me tiennent particulièrement à cœur.

Pour ce qui est du premier sujèt,  mes services sont en train d’élaborer, avec les partenaires concernés, un plan d’action afin d’accroître la sécurité anti-incendie dans les bâtiments.

Chaque année, on dénombre 25.000 foyers d’incendie en Belgique, dont quasiment la moitié à l’intérieur d’habitations privées. Ces incendies font près de 100 victimes mortels par an. Or le citoyen peut se protéger contre ces dangers, par des moyens souvent simples mais efficaces.  Un détecteur de fumée, un extincteur, une couverture anti-feu peuvent faire une différence énorme.

Une bonne politique de prévention permet d’éviter certains incendies et surtout limite les conséquences de ceux-ci. Il est donc nécessaire de sensibiliser la population. C’est pour cela que le gouvernement a par exemple introduit une réduction d’impôt qui peut être obtenue pour l’achat d’extincteurs et le placement de portes avec résistance au feu.

Je souhaite également que le citoyen puisse bénéficier de conseils personnalisés et gratuits, sur la manière de sécuriser son habitation contre l’incendie. Ce genre de conseil est déjà fourni en ce qui concerne la sécurisation de l’habitation contre le cambriolage, par des fonctionnaires appelés techno-preventif,  qui font partie de la police locale. Nous sommes en ce moment  en train d’élargir leurs conseils à la sécurisation contre l’incendie.

Il y a dix jours, j’ai donné le coup d’envoi de la quinzaine de la sécurité, à une caserne de pompiers à Niel dans la province d’Anvers. Là aussi il s’âgit d’une nouvelle initiative de sensibilisation des citoyens. Cette anneé elle met l’accent sur l’utilisation correcte des extincteurs par tout un chacun. J’ai du faire moi-même d’ailleurs la démonstration devant les caméras.

Pendant cette Quinzaine de la Sécurité, de nombreuses casernes de pompiers ouvrent leurs portes Les citoyens peuvent y assister à toutes sortes de séances de démonstration, par exemple l’incendie d’une friteuse ou l’explosion d’une bonbonne de gaz.

Mes services ont également produit, en collaboration avec la fédération sectorielle Agoria Fire Technologies, Fireforum et le PIBA à Malines, un petit film qui propose une démonstration de l’utilisation d’un extincteur.

Ladies and Gentleman

Besides making the public aware of its own tools for safety against fire, a minister has to take decisions and make rules that can enhance safety. My administration has prepared new rules to add to the basic norms about fire prevention in our country. They add some detailed technical rules for new industrial buildings and they should make it more easy for architects and engineers to achieve a higher level of security against fire.

But as Mr. Soete said, new buildings are becoming more and more complex, which is why the concept of ‘Fire Safety Engineering’ has been developed. The government can, in its law and rulings, try to follow as much as possible the new techniques and complexities of construction, but it can never claim to be the ultimate safety-norm for every individual building.

Here again, as with prevention with the individual citizen, it is clear  that the government and its administration can only try to guarantee security against fire, if the citizens and the companies do their part of the job.

And let us, of course, not forget about the firemen themselves. They are valuable experts as far as advice about prevention is concerned. But the will always have a key role to play whenever a fire breaks out. No two fire incidents are the same, and so you will always need humans to react in a flexible way to the problems each fire is putting up.

That is why we have decided to continue the reform of the fire-services that was started by the previous Home secretaries of this country, even when the money needed to pay the reform is far from totally available. But as fire extinction is becoming a more complex matter, and the dangers for the firemen and the public are growing, we cannot make the choice of keeping it organised the way it was the last three decades. We need renewal, investment and formation, not the least for the safety of our firemen themselves.

Ladies and Gentleman

I have accepted the invitation to speak here, because I am convinced that such meetings, where experts of all kind discuss about what they know, are in itself a contribution to greater awareness and better safety against fire. I am sure there is a lot of novelties to learn about, today and tomorrow. And if by coincidence, and after 729 years, a fire should break out in this historic belfry, I assume that the right people are on the right place.

Thank you.

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