Criticism of Swedish authorities for their handling of the big forest fire in Västmanland has in some quarters been very strong. Much of it will never be seen by those who only consume media and authority-approved information. But those who actively search for information online do not have to look farther than Mikael Styrman’s blogpost “The Swedish incompetence in its prime.” Styrman knows what he’s talking about:
For those who do not know why I feel that I am called to speak about this, I fly helicopters and am a forest owner, a former forestry contractor and manager of a power plant. I have been through several forest fires and have both commissioned and performed several prescribed forest burnings, including both preparation and afterwork.
Styrman writes not only about the incompetence that has characterized the management of this particular disaster but also the cause: the system errors in the Swedish public sector. The same system errors that, as Styrman explains, cause the trains to stop, or not start at all, as soon as it gets warmer or colder than 10 degrees Celsius. Errors that cause expensive and unnecessary tunnels to not be completed on time. Errors that convict innocent citizens of 10 murders while the real killers go free. The reason the elderly are abandoned and locked up at night. The reason the electricity stops working when it gets a little windy and functioning telephone lines get scrapped because it means more money in the pockets of the telecommunications mafia.
Styrman summarizes these system errors in one sentence when he discusses the five highest officials responsible for the rescue operation who answered questions at a recent press conference in Sala.
Five highly paid and totally ignorant people for which it is more important what sex they are, what party they belong to, and who they are family and friends with.
It is the factor that Styrman mentions first—gender—that we shall look at closely. But first, some facts about Swedish preparedness for disasters like this one. There was talk in the media that Sweden could quickly mobilize five helicopters for extinguishing and rescue work. The truth is that Sweden could mobilize only three. Two more had to be borrowed from Norway. Three helicopters is what Sweden can send up in the event of a major disaster such as this. THREE! We have ordered 10 Black Hawk helicopters, Prime Minister Reinfeldt said in his defense in a recent interview. But the order has apparently not been expedited for more than 10 years?!
What other customer has accepted a delay of 10 years when placing such an important order? Or any order, for that matter? Was there no clause to cancel the contract in case of a serious delay? Ten years? Give me a fucking break … And not a single follow-up question from the reporter. Marvelous!
Admittedly, helicopters are not a particularly effective tool when it comes to putting out fires of this magnitude, but they are incredibly important in almost all kinds of other rescue work. In this fire, the helicopters have rescued several people. But in the effort to extinguish fires of this scale, they are pretty useless. There is then really only one thing one can do, according to Styrman (except maybe start dancing a rain dance). You have to quickly cut fire roads in the periphery, start fires there, and let those fires burn their way into the middle, where they will extinguish one another. If this had been done straight away, this disaster could have been avoided. The key in these situations is knowledge.
An educated person will be more useful with just a shovel than a whole bunch of incompetent people with all the equipment in the world.
So what has the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (“Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap,” or MSB) done to strengthen this knowledge with their management staff in recent years? What has been done to educate the people who will be our last line of defense against natural disasters of this magnitude? Have they done anything?
Oh yes, they have spent millions of dollars to train management … in “gender studies and equality.”
In early 2010, the MSB spent 16 million Swedish kronor (called “sek,” and equal to US$2.3 million) on two major projects. Eight million went to the Center for Gender Studies at Karlstad University and the project “The gender-coded civil protection: Conditions of gender equality.” Among other things, it discussed whether masculinity should be considered a risk.
The same amount of money went to Luleå University for a four-year program called “Gender and Public Safety: Technology, organization and gender mainstreaming.” Some areas that researchers will examine include:
- Why are the number of women greater among part-time firefighters than among full-time employees? Is it because of how the work is organized?
- What role does new equipment and tools play for how we look at the job?
- Physical strength is valued very highly among firefighters. How do we explain that an experienced firefighter may have high status, even if he is no longer so strong?
- Are there significant barriers to equality that lie more in the community than outside civil protection?
- How significant is it, for example, that a father of small children is expected to be able to work nights but not a mother of small children?
Does anyone see anything in this program that has got anything to do with rescue work? How best to fight major forest fires, for example? No? Neither do I.
Look at the following screenshot, which was recently taken from the MSB website. This page promotes a protection against accidents (SMO) program, which is a two-year post–high school program for anyone who wants to become a firefighter and work with rescue and safety. Does anyone notice the same as me?
So what did the Swedish taxpayers get for their 16 million sek? Were the burning forests in Västmanland full of strong and brave women who made heroic efforts to put the damn thing out? No, they were not. I will not say there were none, for I do not know that, but if there were women involved, they were not many. And if any of the men (or their leadership) who have been fighting this monster participated in this program, I doubt they have had much use for it in their 10-plus days of battling the largest forest fire in Swedish history.
The politicians, who are so freely handing out billions of taxpayers’ money to self-proclaimed frauds and swindlers at the universities, do not seem to question why their (read: our) spent millions did not contribute to an effective disaster preparedness. In any case, I have not heard any such criticism from any of them so far. Asa Romson (environmental party) now suddenly celebrates the same people whom in a recent speech in Almedalen she called “non-people”: white, heterosexual, carnivorous men. In one week, the same people can apparently go from being the cause of all that is wrong in this world to being heroes. All that’s needed is a forest fire that you can smell all the way to Stockholm.
It has rubbed many people the wrong way that early in the crisis Romson tried to win political points from a disaster that had already taken people’s (men’s) lives and homes, especially since she and her party have been driving the effort to totally dismantle Swedish defense units. If the Green Party would have had a majority in parliament, we would not have been able to mobilize even three choppers or a single tracked vehicle, for that matter.
But she is not the only politician who deserves criticism. They all do. We Swedes are generally either indifferent or ignorant about what is done above our heads.
I do believe, though, that most citizens would agree with me that it’s worth 16 million of our money to educate a good rescue service, thereby having not only rescue workers who know their shit but also competent crisis management. The tax money we pay to the Civil Contingencies Agency should be used to ensure just that. What it should not be used for, however, is funding a playhouse for self-appointed gender experts whose teachings denigrate the very people who right now are risking their lives to toil 20 hours a day in shifts to save people and property in Västmanland.
Am I the only one who can feel my blood starting to boil?
And it does not get better when I hear that the (of course, female) head of the Civil Contingencies Agency, Helena Lindberg, refused to end her vacation early to come home to take charge. She gave some sort of explanation to the dumbfounded reporter, but all I hear is something like this:
I don’t give a fuck about your trivial fires and burnt-down cottages and you can do crap about it since I have protection. I do NOT want to be disturbed when I am on vacation reading the latest proposals from my interior designer. And anyway I don’t even know what a forest fire is. You don’t have to have skills in my job. You just have to be a woman with the right opinions and connections. Furthermore, it is my husband who does the BBQing in our family.
So far as we know, one man has died and a few more have been badly injured in this fire. And there is a big risk that more casualties and even fatalities will follow. It is never a good idea for civilians to wander into areas where huge forest fires are raging.
Whether or not volunteers join the fight despite the risks depends on management’s ineptitude. When people realize that those who should be doing the job of protecting them and their property don’t know how, they tend to take matters into their own hands. It is called responsibility. In these cases, it is often good, but sometimes it ends badly.
You cannot tell people not to do anything themselves: “Just watch from a safe distance as we make total asses of ourselves and your property gets destroyed!”
You have to learn how to do your job and then take care of it!
And guess who it is in the family who grabs the chainsaw and shovel and heads for the forest? Well, you have a 50 percent chance of getting it right. Looks like ordinary folk have not participated in university gender programs yet.
But that said, I also want to make it perfectly clear that it is not the many firefighters heroically fighting in the forests right now who are to blame. And a lot of women are also doing heroic actions: getting food, water, and other supplies to the workers, providing transport, and organizing sleeping shelters, etc. Funny how when shit hits the fan, we always seem to regress to our old gender roles. Dangerous close situations seem to have that effect on us. No shadow should fall over these people. They are all truly heroes and deserve our fullest respect.
And they also deserve a management and, ultimately, politicians who do not spend their hard-earned money on bullshit gender studies that have done NOTHING to help them fighting for us all out there.
Let us hope that no other big fires will happen anywhere in Sweden right now because at the moment every fire hose in the whole of Sweden is in Västmanland.
But at least we are equal, right? What a comfort.