EU firefighting aircraft

View from Brussels: Firefighting gets knowledge boost

Image credit: European Union 2022

The EU’s patent office has launched a new scheme aimed at helping firefighters across the world better battle blazes and wrestle with wildfires, by providing up-to-date info on technologies and know-how. It is very well timed.

Wildfires are getting more common and causing more damage than ever, thanks largely to climate breakdown. Hot summers coupled with longer droughts create the ideal conditions for uncontrollable blazes.

Last year was Europe’s second-worst fire season: 830,000 hectares of land burned and more than €2 billion in damages were inflicted. That is just the financial cost; the immense toll on some communities and day-to-day life cannot be measured.

That is why forecasting where fires are going to strike, making sure firefighters are trained correctly and providing them with the very best equipment is oh so important in saving lives, livelihoods, biodiversity and areas of outstanding beauty.

The European Union’s Patent Office (EPO) is on the case and last week launched an initiative aimed at checking all of those boxes.

Under its new knowledge-sharing platform, patents and patent applications relating to technologies that prevent, detect and extinguish fires, as well as protective equipment and post-fire restoration tech will all be made available.

Artificial intelligence, aerial technologies like drones, virtual firefighting training programmes and fire-retardant materials that can make the difference between life and death are among the innovations covered by patents.

EPO has a public database of more than 140 million documents from 100 countries, so finding crucial information quickly can often be challenging. The new platform aims to provide quick access to pertinent info.

“Global success in fighting fires depends on access to the right know-how and technical information that’s contained in patents,” says EPO President António Campinos.

The EPO hopes that it will give governments and public bodies a valuable source of information that engineers and scientists can also use to prepare well, come up with innovations and launch partnerships. 

Great timing

Better access to firefighting knowledge and know-how is going to be invaluable in the coming months, as experts predict that 2023 could be the worst ever year for wildfires.

In an attempt to try and prepare as well as possible, the EU has doubled the size of its firefighting vehicle fleet, which is made up of Canadair planes, lighter aircraft and helicopters.

Crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarčić told reporters this week that “this year has already started much drier than average”, adding that he expects it to be a “busy, busy summer”.

The aircraft are stationed across Europe in 10 different countries in order to respond as strategically as possible. Lenarčić’s services in Brussels track fires and conditions that make fires more likely so that the vehicles can be dispatched where most needed.

Four hundred firefighters are expected to be deployed in Greece, Portugal and France in the coming weeks as dry weather increases the chances of blazes.

After 2022 went down in the record books as the hottest ever summer in Europe, officials in Brussels pledged to invest more resources in its rescEU crisis response initiative. That is bearing fruit now but one issue remains: funding.

“There should be more funding because of climate change, because we are witnessing an increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters in particular,” Lenarčić insisted, explaining that rescEU is now activated more than 100 times a year.

Talks are already ramping up in Brussels about the EU’s overall budget for 2024 and the size of the pot that will be allocated in 2027 as part of the bloc’s multi-annual financial framework. National governments are pushing for cuts to both.

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