Dáil debates

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Adjournment Debate

Fire Stations.

11:00 pm

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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On Friday last I visited Tallow fire station in County Waterford. Having raised this issue on previous occasions, and with staff and local residents waiting over a decade for a new fire station to be provided, I wanted to see for myself the dire conditions that staff at the fire station staff are obliged to endure. What I saw amounted to a scandal.

The problems begin even before one enters the building. The fire station is located at a T junction where there is virtually no car parking. Other spaces in the vicinity are in high demand so when firemen arrive at short notice to attend to an emergency, optimum car parking can be an issue. When one arrives inside the premises, matters become even worse. Part of the station is in a Portakabin. There is no drying room for the firemen's gear. The heating system is inadequate and does not heat the station properly. All doors in the station have to be opened when the fire appliance, now over 16 years old, is started. The toilets and showers are totally inadequate. With only one toilet-cum-shower unit, firemen must queue up to use the shower after tending to fires or other emergencies. This is not acceptable.

Waterford County Council is an equal opportunities employer. However, there is no female member of staff at the fire station at present.

A site for the new Tallow fire station has been lying idle for 14 years, which is a scandal. A few weeks ago I specifically asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his proposals in respect of providing funding for the construction of a new fire station in Tallow. The reply I received from the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, was completely inadequate and merely stated that approval in principle was granted in 2001 for a new fire station in Tallow. The Minister of State also stated that while it has not been possible to provide funding for this station as part of the 2007 fire services capital programme, funding has been provided for various other priority projects in County Waterford since 2001. These include replacement stations and extensions or upgrading works at stations in Ardmore, Cappoquin, Dungarvan, Dunmore East and Tramore. That is good news for those five fire stations but it is of little benefit for those who are obliged to work in or depend for a service on the Tallow fire station.

The Minister of State concluded by stating that "The provision of funding for a replacement fire station in Tallow will be considered under future fire services capital programmes having regard to overall resources and priorities under the programme". This is not good enough. As matters stand, and from what I saw at first hand last week, Tallow fire station must rank among the worst fire stations throughout the country. A number of new housing developments were constructed in the Tallow area in recent years and the area covered by the fire brigade includes an oil depot, a factory and seven schools. Tallow urgently needs a fully equipped modern fire station. The current situation cannot be allowed continue.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy O'Shea for raising this matter. I am glad to place on record the Government's commitment to the fire services in terms of modernisation and financial investment. I also wish to express our appreciation for the significant contribution which the fire services continue to make each day in safeguarding our communities. As the Deputy will be aware, this commitment can be a dangerous one, as evidenced by a recent traffic accident resulting in the death while on duty of fire fighter Michael Liston and Garda Brian Kelleher. I am certain that the Deputy will join me in expressing my sincere sympathy to both families.

Funding has been provided for a range of priority projects which have been advanced in County Waterford in the past five years or so. These include replacement stations and extensions or upgrading works at stations in Ardmore, Cappoquin, Dungarvan, Dunmore East and Tramore. It would be an understatement to say that Waterford has done well.

My Department has accepted the case for a replacement station at Tallow. While approval in principle was granted for a new fire station some years ago, I expect that this project will advance through more detailed cost and design procedures as soon as possible within the wider context of Waterford's fire services development programme. Requests submitted by fire authorities for funding for the building or refurbishment of fire stations are considered on a case-by-case basis having regard to the existing facilities, the level of activity, the proximity of other fire stations, the fire authority's priorities and the competing demands of other fire authorities for available funding.

The fire service has been in receipt of considerable resources. There have been massive improvements affecting all areas of the service — more investment in infrastructure and equipment, more staff, better training, improved communications and the stepping up of the legislation.

Over the past 25 years, almost €240 million has been provided under the fire services capital programme for the provision of new and refurbished fire stations and the purchase of fire appliances and other equipment. At this stage, over two thirds of our fire stations, including almost all of the busiest stations, have been replaced, we have a modern fleet of front-line fire appliances, and we have a modern emergency response communications system.

Much improvement has been achieved already and I assure Deputy O'Shea that we are fully aware of the needs in Waterford. I hope to respond positively to the current request in respect of Tallow as soon as resources allow. I am conscious of the need for a new station in Tallow and it is a matter that will be very much borne in mind under the new programme.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.55 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 March 2007.