Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Fire Service

10:30 am

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht an cheist seo a ardú. The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003. The Department supports fire authorities by setting general policy, providing the legislative framework, running a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.

In June 2017, a devastating fire claimed the lives of 72 people at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, London, a truly tragic event. Fire tragedies in non-domestic buildings of that scale were last witnessed in Ireland in the years 1979, 1980 and 1981, when the Whiddy oil terminal, the Bundoran Hotel and the Stardust nightclub fire tragedies occurred.

In response to the Grenfell tragedy, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government directed the national directorate for fire and emergency management to convene and co-ordinate a high-level task force to lead a reappraisal of fire safety in Ireland. My Department published “Fire Safety in Ireland”, the report of the fire safety task force, in 2018. Among the recommendations contained in that report is that fire services should undertake an assessment of significant premises and buildings to complement current area risk categorisation. The report recommends the assembling and integration of “operational intelligence”, that is, information accumulated on buildings, which is seen as vital for effective pre-incident planning, into the fire service response. Identifying specific premises, familiarisation with the hazards presented and the preparation of pre-incident plans, PIPs, are essential to delivering a safe and effective response to fires and emergencies.

Section 10(3) of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003 provides that a fire authority shall, in the exercise of its functions, have regard to the nature of fire hazards in its functional area. In February 2023, good practice note 5.5 on “Pre-Incident Planning” was approved by the national directorate for fire and emergency management board and issued to all fire services. While the majority of fire services had pre-existing pre-incident planning programmes, this guidance was developed to standardise the approach and to support a review of existing programmes.

GPN 5.5 outlines that each fire station area should identify significant premises and assess the nature and extent of issues or hazards presented to responding crews. Steps taken for pre-incident planning and for developing links between pre-incident planning, operations, training and fire safety may include: identifying premises and gathering the appropriate information; gathering additional and associated societal, environmental and economic data; integrating a risk management plan; preparing PIP cards, preferably in digital format, to be made available for responding crews; co-ordination between local fire service operations, training and fire safety; and reviewing and updating PIPs, as necessary.

Site visits are undertaken by local fire officers to gather or confirm information for the preparation of a PIP card that provides a standard layout and technical summary of premises for the crew and incident commander. If pre-incident planning identifies specific issues of concern in relation to a premises, a chief fire officer may consider designating specific predetermined attendance, setting out the number, type and order of despatch of fire appliances in the event of an incident.

I will come back with a supplementary response on the issues around recruitment. There is no doubt there are recruitment challenges across the labour market but it is a matter for the authorities.


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