After the Vlasenica Municipal Assembly decided to abolish the Fire Department in this municipality, five firefighters filed criminal charges against Mayor Miroslav Kraljević. In the meantime, Kraljević reached an agreement with his colleague from neighbouring Milići that they intervene in Vlasenica as well, even though their number is below the legal minimum. Vlasenica (former) firefighters come to work, but do not go out for interventions. Still no reaction from the relevant ministry.
"The man doesn't live here but in Banja Luka. But that's why he determines who lives and who dies in Vlasenica". This is how mayor Miroslav Mić Kraljević is seen in the eyes of firefighter Siniša Purtić, shift leader in the former Territorial Fire and Rescue Unit of Vlasenica, and assesses the move of the local authorities as the obvious arbitrariness of a man who confidently manages this underdeveloped municipality.
"At midnight on January 13, TVSJ officially stopped working. We called the head of the Directorate for Inspection Affairs and asked him what to do next. He told us that our labour-legal status is threatened. That we were firefighters-rescuers, but without the possibility of going out to interventions without certified travel orders for fire engines, because we would be in violation. We informed the public, informed the mayor. But they don't want to sign the orders. We found out that the mayor of Milići accepted that the firemen from Milići will carry out interventions in this intermediate space", Purtić told us, whose unit, like Brana from the poem, was erased by Mićo Kraljević with an eraser.
Why are owner firefighters crossed out?
According to Purtić, the only reason for the abolition of the fire department in this municipality is the new collective agreement that was signed in February last year between the Ministry of Administration and Local Self-Government and the Trade Union of the Administration of the RS.
They state this as a reason in the decision of the Administrative Court of Vlasenica dated December 16, 2022.
"We were just looking for the acquired rights. The indirect culprit for all that is happening to us is the Minister for Administration and Local Self-Government and the President of the Administration and Local Self-Government Trade Union - Minister Senka Juić and Božo Marić. Because we requested only those rights that were signed by a special collective agreement (PKU). We asked for inspection supervision, the administrative inspector came and ordered him to sign the PKU, but he did not sign it. She came again to check the measures ordered by the decision, he did not agree, the woman wrote a misdemeanour order, and I think he paid some kind of fine. And imagine the nonsense, the president of the municipal union Slaviša Paunić defends him in court. He even defended the decision made in the local parliament at the request of the mayor to abolish the Fire Department. He said that he, as the president of the union, insisted to the mayor not to sign the PKU, according to which the firefighters move from the third to the fourth pay grade", says Purtić.
And the salaries of firefighters, according to the new collective agreement, are only slightly above the minimum, which Prime Minister Višković claims will be the highest in the region.
"Our average net salary for 12 people with an elder is 750-780 marks without a hot meal. That's funny. But in all this, we are not important, but the citizens are. It seems to me that the citizens are not of interest to that man (Mayor Kraljević, ed.), he is interested in henchmen. He spread like an epidemic. He has his own company - he deals with aluminium carpentry. His carpentry is at the new police station. He calls out a tender for himself, of course, the company is not run on it, but it also installs windows at the municipality", says Purtić.
Not abolition, but reorganisation
We have not been able to find out what the mayor of Vlasenica, Miroslav Kraljević, says. After unsuccessfully calling his office for days, we got the municipality's spokesperson, Ljiljana Savinović. She said that due to objective reasons they are unavailable in the cabinet, that things are not as they are presented in public and that the fire department has not been abolished but will be reorganised. She instructed us to send our questions to her via email and that she would send us the answers, but they have not arrived at this moment.
We tried to find out what the atmosphere is like in Vlasenica from our colleagues at the local radio station. Since there is no information on the Radio Vlasenica website, we asked if they follow the assembly and if there were any reactions from the citizens to the abolition of the Fire Department.
"No one addressed us, no citizens commented, and we have the report. Don't look on Radio Vlasenica, our site is Info-portal Vlasenica 24. There you will also find a report from the 12th session of the Vlasenica Municipal Council", said a kind voice that directed us to the spokesperson.
And, indeed, on the mentioned page we found a report in which it is stated that "at the meeting, the proposal of Mayor Miroslav Kraljević on the reorganization of the Territorial Firefighting Unit into a Voluntary Firefighting and Rescue Unit capable of extinguishing fires was adopted".
The report of Radio Vlasenica denies the decision published in the Official Gazette on the termination of TVJ Vlasenica.
When Marko and Kraljević come to an agreement
That everything is improvised is also shown by the actions of Mayor Kraljević. Since, due to costs, he decided to shut down the fire department on his own, he sought help from the neighbouring municipality of Milići. Namely, it is not expensive for them to finance the fire department, even though their budget is a third smaller. In 2022, Vlasenica had almost 11 million marks, while Milići's budget last year was 6.8 million. Admittedly, Milići has one less firefighter, more precisely, 11 with a chief, which is below the legal minimum, which stipulates that there must be at least 12 of them.
However, this circumstance did not prevent the mayor of the Milići Municipality from agreeing with Kraljević that firefighters from this municipality cover this "vacuum area" until the registration of the voluntary fire brigade in Vlasenica is completed.
In contrast to Kraljević, Marko Savić, the mayor of Milići municipality, responded expeditiously to the questions we sent.
He claims that he will hire another firefighter this year and eliminate legal deficiencies.
"It is a written agreement that is motivated by the desire to protect the citizens of the municipality of Vlasenica and help in a kind of vacuum in which the municipality of Vlasenica found itself. At the request of the mayor of Vlasenica, I accepted to meet our neighbouring municipality. They have started the process of registering a voluntary firefighting company, and until the registration process is completed, our firefighting unit will respond to any problem that occurs in the municipality of Vlasenica, and it would have done so even if it had not been for the agreement.
As I mentioned, there is no precise deadline because it is impossible to define it, but according to the assurance of the mayor of the municipality of Vlasenica, the process of registration of the voluntary fire brigade will be completed quickly, because it has already been started, so this is a temporary measure. The agreement also stipulates that if an intervention occurs during that period, we will invoice the costs to the municipality of Vlasenica. The truth is that at this moment our fire department consists of ten firefighters and elders, and we will fill it with two more firefighters this year. The practice has shown that for this number of inhabitants, the mentioned unit can fulfil any task. I will mention that these two municipalities are relatively close, they were even one municipality up until March 31, 1992. With the number of inhabitants who live in both and the space it covers, as well as the probability of a fire in this area and the number of interventions, I am of the opinion that the unit can respond to the task within a limited period of time", claims the Mayor of Milići.
On the other hand, the firefighters from Milići were not so optimistic. When asked what they think about covering the territory of the two municipalities and whether they can answer that task, the voice that answered the phone of the Milići Fire Department said to leave him alone.
"Ma'am, don't ask me anything. That's for others to decide, I can't tell you anything", was the short answer before the connection ended.
Criminal charges filed against Kraljević and Savić
Lawyer Din Tešić, whose office pro bono represents firefighters from Vlasenica, but also from Trebinje, whose mayor refuses to apply the PKU, believes that this is a possible criminal act.
Tešić claims that it is a socially dangerous behaviour of individuals that could inspire someone to abolish the police station or the health centre under the pretext that it also costs the municipality.
"This is an obvious continuation of the intimidation of firefighters in Republika Srpska committed by certain persons who, contrary to the Law and the Collective Agreement, want to determine who are eligible and who are ineligible workers who will be deprived of all legal rights. The behaviour of the mayor and other persons in the Municipality of Vlasenica who abolished the Fire Department, leaving all citizens of the Municipality of Vlasenica without protection due to fire, is particularly dangerous.
When the persons realized that they had committed a possible criminal act, an illegal contract was concluded with the Mayor of the Municipality of Milići. The municipality of Milići itself does not have a sufficient number of firefighters in accordance with the law, which it needs in order to provide high-quality fire protection, so it is not clear how the responsible persons think that they can take on this type of responsibility in the municipality of Vlasenica without enough resources and manpower for the municipality of Milići, not to mention that this transfer of jurisdiction is illegal, and the contract did not even go through the public procurement procedure. It doesn't matter if the firefighters are at the scene of the accident or fire in a few minutes or half an hour, which is the minimum time it takes from Milići to Vlasenica. Therefore, it is a bad attempt to help a possible perpetrator in a criminal act, which the court and the prosecution have yet to declare. By abolishing the fire-rescue unit and leaving citizens without protection only with the intention of intimidating the permanently employed firefighters into withdrawing the lawsuit, it is a continuation of the story that has already taken place in Trebinje and which continues today with the transfer of one employee at a time into Civil Protection against the law. Here we have, as we said, socially dangerous behaviour probably agreed with the aim of intimidating all firefighters in Republika Srpska, which is inadmissible", reads the answer that was delivered to "Direct" from the Tešić law office.
Five firefighters from Vlasenica filed this criminal complaint. Now the Basic Court in Vlasenica is on the move.
The mayor to make money, the fires to be put out by volunteers
And while in Vlasenica they are in the phase of forming the Voluntary Fire Brigade, the Center for the Environment from Banjaluka submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court against the company "Ecoplast" owned by the mayor Miroslav Kraljević due to health hazards. They claim that it produces carcinogenic substances when heated.
"The plastic processing plant is 100 meters from the first residential building, in the centre of the city. And it promotes the air spa and ski centre Igrišta. It's incredible. Everything that is impossible anywhere in the world is possible in Vlasenica", comments Siniša Purtić.