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Firefighters believe proposed changes to fire engine crews will put public at risk

Siptu says there are concerns that reducing levels of staff on fire engines could put lives at risk.

Image: Julien Behal/PA

SIPTU-RETAINED FIREFIGHTERS are to ballot for industrial action up to and including a strike over fears that a reduction in crewing levels will put the public at risk.

A circular issued by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government this month to fire authorities made recommendations on the implementation of its ‘Keeping Communities Safe‘ policy. The initiative includes a proposed reduction in crewing levels manning fire engines.

Speaking today, Siptu sector organiser Brendan O’Brien said the union is extremely concerned that the department is seeking to push through reductions in fire-fighter crewing levels which could jeopardise the health and safety of the public which relies on the critical emergency service.

The minimum staffing level at a call out should be six, O’Brien explained, with sufficient firefighters to operate pumps and machinery and to go into rescue anyone onside. Safety standards also dictate that there should be two firefighters outside ready to go in and pull out the two who go inside, if they get into any trouble.

“If you take one out of that six, then something has to give in relation to service,” O’Brien told TheJournal.ie. “If they reduce crewing levels on an appliance, they’re jeopardising the fire crews themselves and jeopardising public safety.”

SIPTU represents over 1,700 of the 2,000 retained fire-fighters employed by local authorities across the country. Around two-thirds of firefighters in Ireland are retained firefighters who are not fulltime but are fully trained paid on a per call basis.

Most firefighters in small towns and villages would be retained firefighters and they are concerned about how this directive could affect the service in rural areas.

O’Brien said there is also a meeting planned with full time firefighters in the middle of next week to discuss this issue. He called on Minister Alan Kelly to intervene and ensure that his department does not proceed to implement these measures.

A spokesperson for the minister’s department said the ‘Keeping Communities Safe’ document aligns Ireland with international trends in protecting people from the dangers of fire and reducing fire losses.

They confirmed that a good practice note was issued to fire authorities on managing the attendance of retained crews in early January.

“This followed a period of extended consultation which included discussions and consideration of points raised by SIPTU,” they said. “This Good Practice Note (GPN) is not a directive and is intended to inform local authority management in their statutory functions of providing consistent, effective and safe fire services.”

The note and accompanying Circular attached state that:

…the GPN should not be interpreted as a unilateral alteration of existing staffing arrangements. It is envisaged that if issues arise from this GPN which affect current terms and conditions of staff, these would be subject to negotiation with recognised staff representative bodies. Issues of an industrial relations nature arising should be referred to the LGMA.

The spokesperson said the Local Government Management Agency, (LGMA) the body representing local authorities, have offered to meet SIPTU to discuss fire service issues.

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