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Saturday October 18, 2014

There's a reason why people are turning a blind eye in Spain

At a meeting in Palma recently I was alarmed to receive a call on my mobile from a neighbour advising that a fire had broken out on scrubland above our track and appeared to be out of control. I suggested she call the fire brigade immediately but was told that this was not a good idea until we’d discovered whether the fire been started intentionally. It transpired that if someone had deliberately created the blaze but was found to be supervising it, my neighbour would be issued with a hefty fine for wasting everybody’s time.

In some frustration I told her to give the emergency services my details in case of problems. Reluctantly she conceded. As it happened it was a wild fire set off, the local police believed, by a shard of broken glass that had smouldered and ignited under the sun. A day later the same thing happened and without hesitation my husband and I alerted the fire brigade again. There was no question of a fine being imposed because, as was discovered, the blaze had re-ignited or to put it bluntly had not fully been extinguished the first time.

On another occasion a local called me to say that he could see smoke and flames in woodland above the winding road to Deia. He asked whether I’d mind calling the police in case it turned out just to be a bonfire. As a foreigner, he believed I’d be forgiven the error. And just this month a woman in the town of Fuengirola in Andalusia was issued with a 300€ fine for alerting local police to what she thought was a life and death situation.

While walking on a beach late at night she spotted two men far out at sea, seemingly adrift. She saw that they were making signals close to a buoy and imagined that they were holding on to it for safety. The local police were apparently none too happy about being called out but after pressure from the woman and other beach-goers, alerted the coastguard and a boat and helicopter were dispatched.

As it happened the two in apparent distress were merely fishermen on a canoe who with their backs to the beach had blissfully missed the commotion. Citing it as a false alarm their would-be saviour was immediately fined 300€ for wasting the time of the emergency services.

It seems to me that if this policy continues in Spain, a country where drownings and wild fires are rife during the summer months, there will be serious consequences. Fewer people will contact emergency services when they witness an accident or suspicious incident thereby putting lives at risk. There’s a world of difference between hoaxers and genuine callers and good Samaritans making the effort to prevent a disaster – whatever the outcome – should be clapped on the back not slapped with a fine. As the adage goes, better safe than sorry.

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