Presidents of the Hungarian Firefighter Association (from 1990)
The Hungarian Firefighter Association was founded in 1990, considering as its predecessor the Hungarian National Firefighter Association which functioned between 1870 and 1945.
The Hungarian Firefighter Association celebrates the 150th anniversary of its foundation in 2020. For this reason a portrait gallery was created which is the adaptation for the web-site of the publication issued for the anniversary.
The publication was supported by the Municipality of Budapest Capital.
Along with the change of regime, many other things have changed: nothing stood in the way of founding (or rather reforming) the Hungarian Firefighter Association.
As agreed upon, each county firefighter association could nominate six delegates to the founding assembly with full voting rights and the possibility to be elected to office. Nearly three hundred delegates, interested parties and guests gathered on October 21, 1990 in the congress halls of Füred Hotel in Balatonfüred. On behalf of the preparation committee, László Gulyás, the president of the Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County Firefighter Association, greeted the participants.
The preparation committee did not have an easy task in those uncertain times however. The fundamental legal framework for a functional association proved to be insufficient. As dr. Balázs Horváth, the Minister of the Interior has said in his speech:
"The task for this association is difficult because it brings back new and different ways of thinking and behavior that were erased from the people's minds in the recent decades."
In the end, the turning point came: the general assembly announced the formation of the Hungarian Firefighter Association, and László Csereklei, the president of the Bács-Kiskun County Fire Brigade Association, was elected to president.
The first presidency of the Hungarian Firefighter Association was not successful in advancing the cause of volunteers, presumably because their work was filled with the search for new ways. After two inefficient conferences, in November 1991 and March 1992, the board finally met again in June 1992.
Instead of discussions and further deliberations the committee focused on progress: they decided to set up a steering committee to draw up a new draft statute and a list of presidential candidates. In fine László Csereklei’s position was taken over by dr. Oszkár Jókai, who led the association for four years.
Dr. Oszkár Jókai
Dr. Oszkár Jókai, the second president of the modern period of the Hungarian Firefighter Association, was born on September 25, 1942, in Kispest. Following his graduation, he was assigned as a firefighter for the fire brigade of the 8th District and worked in various positions for a total of three decades, then in 1990, as a district commander, he successfully applied for the position of national firefighter commander.
He was Vice-President of the CTIF from 1991 to 1999, and in 1999 was elected Honorary Vice-President for his work.
He replaced László Csereklei as president of the Hungarian Firefighter Association in 1992, at an immensely difficult time: although the law stated that local fire protection was the responsibility of municipality councils, the 1992 budget did not include any resources for this task. According to official statistics, there were 1,860 volunteer firefighter associations in Hungary in 1992: 766 associations, 1028 social organizations maintained by municipality councils, and 66 listed as "other". The overstretched municipal budgets alone provided very little support to the volunteer fire brigades, which were already operating as associations, namely as independent legal entities.
Dr. Oszkár Jókai, president of the HFA, changed this: he successfully lobbied for financial support for volunteer firefighters, which started from HUF 50 million per year in 1993 and reached HUF 400 million per year by 1997.
He retired on July 1, 1993 as a national fire brigade commander, and then – according to him – he initiated a no-confidence vote against himself at the HFA’s extraordinary board meeting to see if the organization would stand by him after his retirement. As it turned out, it was: he was confirmed in his position with eighty-two yes votes and six absentions.
Due to the nationalization of the association's headquarters on Izabella Street almost half a century ago, the work had to start without office space and administrative staff. The only small change was that later the Ministry of Interior provided two rooms in the Mogyoródi way building for the HFA.
In order to make the board meetings more productive, Jókai invited the presidents of all county firefighter associations to negotiate.
The first real challenge of the HFA - according to dr. Oszkár Jókai - took place in 1993, with the organization of the conference called "For the Fire Protection of Forests". The symposium took place on 15–16 December in the Danube Palace; among the international experts, the President of the Italian Fire Brigade, the Vice-President of the Austrian Fire Brigade and the Chairman of the CTIF Subcommittee on Forest Fires gave presentations.
During this period, the presidency of the Hungarian Fire Brigade Association also established the Count Széchenyi Ödön Memorial Plaque, which is currently the highest recognition given to volunteer firefighters.
The office was expanded in 1994: at a bureau meeting on 22 February, a decision was made to recruit two staff members, an administrator and a financial officer.
The ceremony on August 20, in 1995 brought a special event in the life of the association: the honorary president, dr. Otto Habsburg visited Hungary. According to Oszkár Jókai, who accompanied him, after the service held in the Basilica, the guest was greeted with great interest and by an exceptionaly large crowd.
On December 5, in 1995, the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the HFA was celebrated; Zoltán Gál, the President of the Parliament at that time, took the patronage of the event. At the ceremony, Minister of the Interior Gábor Kuncze made a toast, praising the association's efforts so far: “We highly appreciate the work that the association has done since the reorganization, especially since 1992. […] I personally appreciate the activities of Major General Oszkár Jókai. Hopefully he will have the opportunity to continue his work at the HFA. On this occasion, in recognition of more than thirty-five-year career as a firefighter, Jókai was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary.
Prior to the 1996 renewal, the Budapest Fire Brigade was admitted to the HFA; after that, at the meeting dr. Zoltán Száray, fire commander of Budapest at that time, was elected as the new president of the association.
Dr. Oszkár Jókai worked as an entrepreneur from 1997, as a fire investigation expert from 2009, and as a forensic expert from 2010.
Dr. Zoltán Száray
Zoltán Száray was born on December 22, in 1944 in Budapest. He began his professional career on April 1, in 1967, in the Fire Brigade of the 6-7th District as a firefighter, following the footsteps of his father, Rudolf Száray.
For one year after graduating from the Academy of the Ministry of Interior, he worked in the district subdivision as a fire protection officer. He started working in the field of firefighting training in 1970, he was the commander of the Fire Training Center of the Ministry of Interior from October 1, in 1989, and from September 1, in 1991 he was the director general of the Fire Protection Training and Research Institute of the Ministry of the Interior.
On June 16, in 1993, he became the Director General of Fire Protection of the National Command of Fire and Civil Protection of the Ministry of Interior, and on April 1, in 1995, he became Commander of the Budapest Fire Brigade.
In 1992 he received a gold ring, in 1997 an ornamental sword, and in 1999 a decorative sword from the Minister of the Interior. The President of the Republic, also in 1999, awarded him the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, and in the same year he was promoted to Major General.
He was elected President of the Hungarian Firefighter Association during the November in 1996 renewal - just in the year when the Parliament (April 23, in 1996) passed the Law on Fire Protection, Technical Rescue and Firefighting. The law made a distinction between the so called Volunteer Firefighter Associations and Volunteer Fire Brigades. According to the definition, the former was a social organization performing fire prevention, firefighting and technical rescue tasks in any given settlement. Whereas a Volunteer Fire Brigade is a public body founded together by a municipality and a firefighter assocation to carry out firefighting and technical rescue tasks; providing continuous standby service and operating in an independent area of operation.
In order to achieve better professional coordination, the Hungarian Firefighter Association has also concluded a cooperation agreement with two “sister organizations”, the National Association of Professional Municipal Fire Brigades and the National Association of Facility and Volunteer Fire Brigades. Looking back, this agreement proved to be the beginning of a long but promising process. (The preparation of the framework agreement was underway during Száray's presidency, but the signing was already the task of the next president, József Pintér, on October 18, in 2000.)
Dr. Zoltán Száray resigned from the presidency of the HFA in March 2000, and soon after, on May 30 2000, after more than three decades of a professional career, he retired when he reached the upper age limit of the service. He also took an active part in firefighter command as a retiree, and he gladly passed on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of firefighters. In recognition of his merits, in 2008, at the time of his retirement, he was appointed Lieutenant General.
On December 12, in 2014, on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the birth of Count Ödön Széchenyi, the Central Museum of Disaster Management and the Budapest Disaster Management Directorate held a commemoration in the building on Dologház Street on Friday afternoon. Here - as one of the festive moments of the event - Ferenc Varga, fire brigadier general, director of the Budapest Disaster Management Directorate, greeted dr. Zoltán Száray, a retired firefighter, on the occasion of his upcoming 70th birthday.
Dr. Zoltán Száray died at home on September 23, 2018, due to a long illness. He received a funeral with honor guard, and beside family members, heads of state, municipal and disaster relief agencies, former comrades, students, and fellow workers paid their respects.
The biography of József Pintér is quite a bit different than the other presidents of the HFA. He was born on November 2, 1944 in Kecel, where he completed his primary school studies, then started as a car mechanic at the local company, then worked for the local small-scale production cooperative for six years. He learned a number of professions - he was a qualified welder, a general machine machinist, a transport engineer technician, an iron and metal structure locksmith, a car mechanic - and passed a master's exam, and later obtained a degree in mechanical engineering.
In 1978, literally among the first to become an entrepreneurial craftsman, he reportedly received the first tax number. Between 1986 and 1989, his company built fourteen refrigerator factories in the Soviet Union. His company, Pintér Works, was built in 1989; after forty years it was the first large corporation to be inaugurated by the then Prime Minister. The main profile of the business has been metalworking ever since; they produce almost everything from screws to multi-ton workpieces (high-capacity fluid storage and pressure vessels, nuclear waste storage, industrial robots, machine frames, etc.).
József Pintér had an excessively eventful and colorful life. On Kecel he created one of the largest military technology parks in Europe, which has been open to the public ever since; he regularly supported anti-cancer, anti-drug and anti-AIDS foundations and foundations for children and premature babies. He was an enthusiastic patron of cultural events in public life. According to an anecdote, he loved to manage all the events of his company so much that in 2003 he answered the main phone number of Pintér Works himself (at least according to a 2003 interview with Index journalist Attila Tóth-Szenesi).
He received many awards, including Kecel’s honorary title in 1993, “20. Outstanding Personality of the 20th Century” award from the International Center for Biography, the "Man of the Year 1998" Award of the American Institute of Biography. He was the first one to buy a helicopter in Hungary as a private citizen, in order to be able reach Budapest from Kecel in 15 minutes. He had revenues in the billions each year, having the Paks Nuclear Power Plant among his customers.
He came into contact with the volunteer firefighting movement early on. He has been a member of the Kecel Volunteer Firefighter Association since 1998. The Bács-Kiskun County Firefighters' Association nominated him for the position of president of the Hungarian Firefighter Association, and he finally received the position at the Assembly of Delegates in Dunaújváros on November 25, 2000, with an overwhelming majority (the only agenda item was the renewal of the association).
“[…] The Hungarian Firefighter Association must be made suitable for becoming an enterprise as soon as possible. The other expecation is that the new national leadership should be able to gain as many financial resources as possible with the participation and direction of the new president. One such possibility is, for example that the 1% paid by the insurers should go to the Hungarian Firefighter Association rather than the Ministry of Interior.
During this period, one of the biggest advances in the life of the The Hungarian Fire Brigade Association must was becoming a public benefit in 2004, which created legally more favorable conditions (eg offering a percentage of the tax, tax benefits related to subsidies, etc.). Two new departments have been established - the Volunteer Fire Brigade Association and the Tradition Preservation Section - with the help of which further differentiation of work has become possible.
Thanks to the long cooperation between the National Association of Facility and Volunteer Fire Brigades and the National Association of Professional Municipal Firefighters and the the HFA, a working material entitled “Fire Protection Concept of the Republic of Hungary” was created in November 2002.
József Pintér was replaced as the president of the HFA in 2004 by Peter Bende. In 2013, Pintér received the "Kecel City Award" and the "Bács-Kiskun County Award" in recognition of his merits.
He died on the morning of April 21 2014, surrounded by his family and loved ones on his estete at the age of 70.
dr. Péter Bende
Péter Bende was born on January 25, 1953 in Budapest. He graduated from the Technical College of Telecommunications with a degree in railway engineering. In 1979, as a mechanical engineer, he joined the Central Repair Service of the State Fire Department as an engineer. In 1980, he was appointed head of the technical subdivision of the Budapest Fire Brigade, and a year later he became head of the technical and material department. In 1981–82, he completed the officer training, thus obtaining a higher professional qualification. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of Eötvös Loránd University in 1990, and passed the legal exam two years after. From 1991 he headed the Economic Department of the Budapest Fire Brigade, until January 1, 1999, when he became Deputy Commander of the Budapest Fire Brigade. He was appointed colonel in 1997 by the Minister of Interior. He was the chief firefighter commander of Budapest from February 2000, and handed over the baton to his successor in January 2011 when he retired. In August 2000, the President of Hungary appointed Péter Bende as Brigadier General, and two years later, also on the occasion of the state holiday, Major General.
His excellent work has been recognized by his leaders on several occasions. In May 2003, he received the Medal of Merit from St. Florian from the Minister of Interior, and on March 15, 2008, the President of Hungary awarded him the Military Section of the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary.
Major General Dr. Péter Bende replaced József Pintér as the president of the Hungarian Firefighter Association in 2004, and by remaining in this position until March 2013, he was the second longest-serving president in the 150-year history of the association.
The Firefighter Competition Comittee of the HFA was born under his presidency, on November 26, 2005 in Székesfehérvár, where there were already a hundread people involved in the competitions. Despite the declining government support, in 2006 the HFA successfully organized the 1st National Traditional Firefighting Competition - the event has been held every year ever since.
Under the presidency of Dr. Péter Bende, the National Firefighter Day took place in Keszthely on April 30, 2005, and on September 23 a professional symposium was held for the presidents of various volunteer firefighter associations, and the commanders of municipality and facility fire brigades. The 135th anniversary of the the HFA took place on 3 December, and the leaders of eight fire brigades from abroad paid their respects at the event in Budapest. Even Count Géza Széchenyi - a direct descendant of the founder of the association - was present, receiving a memorial plaque from the leaders of the HFA.
The international relations, which have been continuously built since the beginning of the millennium, were fully achieved by 2008: the HFA maintained close relations with the firefighter associations of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Austria and Germany. What's more, a cooperation agreement was signed with the Polish and Slovak associations. Representatives of the the HFA continuously participate in the work of the CTIF Hungarian National Committee and in the CTIF European, Competition and Danube Member States Committee.
The association also ran into financial difficulties during this period. For example, in the 2008 budget, for reasons still unclear, the operating support of HFA and National Association of Facility and Voluntary Fire Brigades was combined, which forced both organizations to make lengthy negotiations.
The HFA was forced to move in 2005 and 2008 for economic reasons. The headquarters was first transferred from Visegrádi Street to the Disaster Management Education Center on Kerepesi street, and from there again to its former location, the Martinovics square office premises used by the Budapest Fire Brigade.
One of the most significant results of the professional work was the XXXIII. Law, which was created at the urging of the HFA and which applied to the Volunteer Firefighter Associations (VFA). According to this law these VFAs could participate in firefighting and fire protection more actively than before.
Dr. Peter Bende, wrote at the creation of the website St. Florian in his introduction: “Even as a chief firefighter commander in the capital, I learned to appreciate the work of volunteer firefighters. Later, as the president of the HFA, I did my best to ensure that the volunteer firefighters received both moral and financial support to fulfill their duty to their settlement at a high professional level. ”
Dr. Péter Bende died on December 2, 2013, with tragic suddenness. During his decades-long professional career, he has always witnessed an outstanding professionalism and commitment to the Board.
Tibor Dobson was born on April 19, 1959 in Karcag. After graduating from the Kossuth Lajos Military College, he started his official career in 1981 as the subdivision commander of the Kiskunhalas Armored Artillery Regiment and then from 1984 he served as a lecturer at the Military College.
He applied for a transfer to the Budapest Firefighter Command, starting as an executive in the fields of mobilization, education, personnel, firefighting and technical rescue, then he was promoted deputy district commander in March 1992, and six months later he was promoted to head of Technical Rescue and Damage Prevention Division, and then firefighter liaison in the Defense Office of the Ministry of Interior.
In the meantime, he graduated from the Department of Pedagogy of the Eötvös Loránd University, and he had severeal qualifications both in Hungary and abroad (eg. NATO CEP / CIMIC, Cranfield University.
In February 1996 he became head of division at the Disaster Management Coordination Centre where he was tasked with setting up the Budapest Firefighter Command Special (Helicopter) Rescue Team and the nine national emergency response technical bases, elaboration of a technical development and training concept, as well as preparation and management of a PHARE tender worth six million euros to finance the implementation. In addition to all this, he also served as a spokesperson for the organization, which brought him considerable publicity.
He continued to work as a spokesperson for the National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM) in 2000. He was given the task of planning the image of the new organization, as well as several public relation tasks. In addition to his professional duties, he graduated from the Vitéz János Roman Catholic Teacher Training College in 2002 with a degree in communication, and then developed and taught a college curriculum of knowledge related to emergency communication for three years.
From 2009 he continued his career as the fire and rescue commander of Budapest Firefighter Command in South Pest, then as the head of the BFC communications department, and in June 2010 as the rescue deputy of the BFC fire commander. He became the spokesperson of HFA at the request of Péter Bende, the president of HFA at that time. He acted as a spokesman at the sites of the 2010 Borsod flood defense and then at the so called „red sludge”-disaster, in addition to his position. From 16 October 2010, he was the a head of office in the NDGDM, and during this time he was also elected as president of the 2012 established Hungarian Law Enforcement Faculty.
In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Spokesman of the Year Award in 2006 and in the same year the St. Florian Medal of Merit, then in 2009 the Law Enforcement Communication Award, in 2010 he was awarded Gold Grade for Extraordinary Resistance Medal during the red sludge disaster. In 2018, he was awarded the Golden Badge of Merit of the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament.
In addition to his position as President of Hungarian Law Enforcement Faculty, he was also elected President of at the Hungarian Firefighter Association on March 2, 2013 - at the request and with the support of the president; he is currently spending his second term in both organizations.
During his presidency, more emphasis was placed on restoring the advocacy capacity of the HFA to the levels before WW2. One of the first symbolic stages of this was the memorandum of cooperation signed in Balatonföldvár on 11 September 2013 by Tibor Dobson, Sándor Udvardi, and László Balog, the presidents of the HFA, FFA and MFFA respectively.
As the president of the HFA, his main objectives are: to create a unified organization; effective professional advocacy of firefighters; preservation of firefighter traditions; maintaining and expanding international and cross-border relations; increasing organizational awareness, recognition; increasing budget support; facilitating application work; providing care; and the organization of professional, social and sport events.
During his presidency, the unified HFA was established (again) with a renewed organizational structure, the voluntary, facility and local government departments were established, and rescue organizations also became members of the association. There has also been an increase in governmental support for voluntary fire brigades and financial support for municipal fire brigades.
Since 2013, the member organizations of the HFA have become more and more active: the number of deployments by volunteer, municipal and facility fire brigades has increased and they have participated several times in damage control at major disasters.
During this period the HFA became more involved internationally: a number of cooperation agreements were signed with the firefighter associations of neighboring countries, and participation in the work of the CTIF became more active.
In addition, significant progress was made in the communication towards the HFA member organizations and the public: in addition to the HFA central website, all county associations, as well as the facility and municipal firefighting departments received their own website and an official Facebook page was launched.
According to Tibor Dobson's own confession, there is only one significant sense of lack in his professional work so far: the association is yet to become a public body, so in the future this is of paramount importance among the plans, in addition to a worthy commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Association.
He finds that the greatest achievement of the HFA is the launch of the Carpathian-Homeland Volunteer Firefighter Network in 2014, as well as the recognition of the Hungarian Government.
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