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Dublin firefighters to ballot for industrial action over staff shortages on busiest month

Siptu said firefighters are concerned they will not be able to respond adequately to emergencies.

Image: Sam Boal

DUBLIN FIREFIGHTERS HAVE given notice of their intention to ballot for industrial action over staff shortages, claiming the safety of firefighters and members of the public has been “compromised”.

Serious concerns about staffing levels have were expressed over the summer and members of Dublin Fire Brigade who spoke to The Journal said, even as they approach Halloween, the busiest time of the year, a number of frontline fire appliances have been taken ‘off the road’ on certain days due to reduced manning levels.

They said this is resulting in a “serious lack of emergency cover” for several areas in the city.

“We are seriously over-stretched just dealing with day-to-day operations and there is a worry that when a major incident occurs in the city, we will not be able to deal adequately with the emergency,” one firefighter said.

In a letter to the Chief Fire Officer on Wednesday, their union Siptu accused management of failing to “provide a safe system of work” to members and gave notice of an intention to ballot firefighters in two weeks’ time for industrial action, up to strike.

Siptu organiser Geoff McEvoy told The Journal that the union had been engaged in talks with management through the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to try to resolve the issue, but this process has now been paused as he said they were unable to “make headway with management”.

He said the issue has primarily been caused by a failure to hire at the same rate as retirements from the fire service.

“The summer just gone was when the crisis really came to a head. Staffing has been an issue for years, but this was the worst summer crews can remember,” he said.

On average about 20% of the fleet was off the road and that obviously has an impact on the capacity of the service to respond to situations as they arise. It got to the stage where it was presenting a serious health and safety problem for staff but also for the public.

He said members are “massively frustrated” with the situation. The union is asking Dublin Fire Brigade to rapidly increase the rate of recruitment.

“Even at the current rate we’ll never catch up with the problem, nevermind get ahead of it,” he said.

In a statement, Dublin City Council and Dublin Fire Brigade management said they “regret the union’s decision to withdraw from discussions under the auspice of the WRC and ballot for industrial action”.

“Management remain available to utilise the available industrial relations procedures in order to progress the outstanding staffing issues,” they said.

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Labour Senator Marie Sherlock today called on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Dublin City Council to take immediate action to address the issues and the “unacceptable level of risk” they pose.

A meeting took place last night between a number of Dublin Fire Brigade fire fighters, their trade union and Labour councillors, senators and TDs to discuss the situation.

“Throughout this summer and autumn there have near daily occurrences of where the full fleet could not have been deployed, if required, due to staffing shortages,” she said.

“At one stage in September, one fifth of the fleet could not have been deployed if required, and there has been frequent occurrences of when up to five fire engines could not have been deployed, if required.

“What makes this truly frightening is that these shortages have been entirely predictable.”

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