The recent passing of the Fire Brigades’ Union ex-general secretary was commemorated by comrades from the labour and union movement at a memorable ceremony in south Glasgow in the company of Ken’s wife Nuala and his loving family. Its internationalist theme reflected Ken’s long, dedicated support for the oppressed people of South Africa, Venezuela, Cuba and Palestine. But it is for the latter that he stands out and his legacy is the continuing FBU support for Palestinian firefighters.
Ken was the first union general secretary to move a motion criticising the state of Israel at the TUC annual congress in 1982, he travelled with delegations during the first Intifada, visiting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, and with great eloquence he supported the rights of Palestinians to live in freedom, security and peace.
The FBU has consistently supported the Palestinian people during the longest military occupation in modern history, offering in recent years practical support through the facilitation of training and the delivery of kit and equipment to assist Palestinian firefighters in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
Projects have been run since 2009 when firefighters from the Municipality of Nablus received training in Scotland at the Scottish Fire and Rescue College in Gullane and in Dundee and Perth. 2010 saw kit from Dundee driven in a humanitarian convoy to Gaza and in 2011 the FBU set off from Dundee with two fire appliances packed with Personal Protective Equipment kit to drive the 2500 miles to its twin city. One broke down en route in Greece but after the Israelis originally impounded the remaining vehicle, the appliance reached Nablus and is still used in the city emblazoned with FBU Dundee-Nablus on its side.
Training continued with firefighters from the Palestinian Civil Defence in Dundee and Glasgow in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The latest initiative has seen myself as FBU Palestinian Support Coordinator return to Palestine to ascertain current support requirements in Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem and the besieged city of Hebron. The situation in the Municipality of Hebron for firefighters is simply deplorable for they have no Personal Protective Equipment, boots, helmets and breathing apparatus. They have ancient fire appliances and their city is occupied by several thousand Israeli Occupation Forces ‘protecting’ a few hundred Israeli settlers. Consequently, the FBU decided to gather funds and resources to assist to deliver a large quantity of kit and materials and this is now being processed for delivery. The visit has also resulted in an FBU documentary, filmed by Welsh FBU member Ciaran Gibbons, called Firefighters under Occupation. .
In 2014 during a break in training in Glasgow, a group of young Palestinian firefighters met their greatest advocate, Ken, along with Nuala he came to discuss their work. He reflected on his long association with the Palestinian people and although ill, he stayed and immersed himself in their experiences.
At the news of Ken’s passing, Palestinians relayed their sorrow to the FBU with Nablus Fire Chief Ramiz Al-Dele summing up the loss: ‘Once I heard the news, I felt sadness and sympathy as nothing compensates our feelings for the loss of our beloved who shared all our moments of unity and support during the journey of life’.
Jim Malone is the FBU Palestinian Support Coordinator