Written answers

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government

Fire Service

Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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161. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the number of times calls were placed to the fire service in cases in which the closest retained fire service was unavailable to attend due to unavailability of personnel in which alternative tenders had to attend instead by county over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18063/21]

Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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162. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the number of fire service callouts that have been responded to by the retained fire service nationwide by county; the number that have been responded to by the permanent fire service by county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18064/21]

Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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163. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the number of retained firefighters in the fire service; the number of permanent firefighters in the service; the age breakdown of both groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18065/21]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 to 163, inclusive, together.

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. My Department supports fire authorities through setting general policy, providing the legislative framework, running a central training programme and issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects. Fire services issues are managed in my Department by the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM).

Fire services are provided in Ireland by local authorities in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003. Under this legislation, there are 31 fire authorities which provide fire prevention and fire protection services for communities through 27 service delivery structures. Local authority fire services are delivered by approximately 3,300 local authority staff engaged at 217 fire stations nationwide, with 16 of these stations being staffed by full-time firefighters, a further 4 are mixed full-time and retained, and 197 are staff by retained firefighters.

My Department collects statistics from local authorities, on an annual basis, regarding fire service attendance at incidents and the types of incident involved. Fire statistics for the past five years are available at the link below:

The information requested by the Deputy in regard to mobilisation of fire service responses is not available in my Department. However, it should be noted that the arrangements for mobilising a response to a 999/112 call from the public for fire service assistance are handled at three Regional Communications Centres, where call-takers establish the location and nature of the emergency and then mobilise the nearest available fire brigade resource (or resources) to the scene. Individual fire stations (or an appliance in the station in the case of multi-appliance stations) may not be available to respond (they may already be attending another call) or may be 'off the run' at different times for a number of reasons, including the non-availability of personnel. Where a crew are already dealing with an incident or are unavailable for any reason, the next resources on the pre-determined attendance list for that kind of emergency are mobilised by the Regional Communications Centre. I am aware that a small number of situations occurred over the last twelve months where crews were not available due to covid cases or close contacts with covid cases. However, an appropriate fire service response was made to all calls for assistance from the public.

While my Department does not routinely collect the data in the format requested by the Deputy, a breakdown of the number of firefighters in each fire service as of March 2021, based on data supplied by local authorities, is set out in the table below.

Fire service Total no. of operational staff in stations
Carlow 45
Cavan 93
Clare 76
Cork City 152
Cork County 204
Donegal 154
Dublin 963
Galway 138
Kerry 104
Kildare 63
Kilkenny 67
Laois 73
Leitrim 43
Limerick 140
Longford 45
Louth 100
Mayo 119
Meath 72
Monaghan 51
Offaly 51
Roscommon 45
Sligo 47
Tipperary 127
Waterford 124
Westmeath 46
Wexford 64
Wicklow 95
Total 3301

Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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164. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he has reviewed the recommendations of a report (details supplied); his plans to implement the recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18066/21]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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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. My Department supports fire authorities through setting general policy, providing the legislative framework, running a central training programme and issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects. Fire services issues are managed in my Department by the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM).

The Farrell Grant Sparks (FGS) Report referred to by the Deputy was published in January 2002 and it represented a comprehensive review of fire services and fire safety in Ireland at that time.

It identified a number of areas where fire services and the overall approach to fire safety could be improved and was an important landmark in the development of fire services in Ireland. Implementation of its recommendations contributed towards a re-orientation and re-shaping of local authority fire services, with a systemic approach to fire risk management, including a much greater emphasis on Community Fire Safety, together with the focus on incident response.

As the recommendations of the FGS Report were implemented through the Fire Services Change Programme (2005 - 2007) there has been significant development of fire services in Ireland across a wide spectrum of areas. The National Incident Command System was established and Standard Operating Guidance to support safe and effective operations were developed and introduced across all fire services.

The most significant outcome, which is attributed generally to the Community Fire Safety approach, is the decline in the rate of fire-related fatalities which, averaged over three years, now stands at four deaths per million of population, placing Ireland in the league of most fire safe countries. We cannot be complacent, however, and there are significant ongoing fire safety programmes as well as investment in and development of infrastructure including fire stations, the appliance fleet, equipment and training.

After the successful Fire Services Change Programme, the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) was established in my Department in 2009 to give effect to the recommendations in the FGS Report relating to the role of national government in supporting local authority fire services.

This NDFEM structure has proved to be very effective, and the close collaboration between my Department and local authority fire services has been central to the development of effective emergency management response to a range of severe weather and flooding emergencies since 2009. Likewise national fire safety campaigns have been carried out successfully in the aftermath of tragic fires.

The NDFEM carried out a further significant review of fire services and fire safety in Ireland in 2012 and published the policy document "Keeping Communities Safe"in 2013. This sets out an approach a to fire safety cross a number of areas, including risk management; fire safety; service response; dealing with large scale incidents; inter-agency work; major emergency management; quality assurance; performance reporting and implementation. The Review is available on my Department's website at the following link:

In 2016, an external validation exercise on the implementation by local authorities of "Keeping Communities Safe", concluded that the public are served well by fire services in Ireland. There has been a welcome downward trend in fires and other emergencies requiring fire service assistance over a number of years and a reduction in the incidence of loss of life in fire as noted above.

In conclusion, the FGS Report was a point of major change in the approach to fire safety and fire services in Ireland and the developments arising from the implementation of its recommendations have made Ireland a safer country.

Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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165. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the measures in place to ensure retention, upskilling and promotion of retained firefighters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18067/21]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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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. My Department supports fire authorities through setting general policy, providing the legislative framework, running a central training programme and issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects. Fire services issues are managed in my Department by the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM).

Under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003 there are 31 fire authorities which provide fire prevention and fire protection services for communities through 27 service delivery structures. Local authorities employ 3,300 staff who work at 218 fire stations nationwide. Fire services are provided by combinations of full-time and retained firefighters, professional, competent and highly committed personnel who work to protect their communities.

The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) provides support to individual fire services in the areas of Human Resources and Industrial Relations. The LGMA works with the NDFEM to monitor issues associated with recruitment and retention and on developing strategies to address issues which arise. It is clear that in some areas societal changes are impacting on the availability of personnel for the retained fire service and the number of candidates applying for retained fire service positions is limited in some cases. However, local authorities across the country continue to maintain their fire services throughout.

In relation to upskilling, on initially joining the fire service, retained firefighters are trained in accordance with a national syllabus. Fire-fighters are given further specialist training as required in the early stages of their careers. They continue to practice their skills through-out their careers with weekly on-station training. However, this ongoing local training has been disrupted by covid-related restrictions, as has much of fire service training provided at national level.

Promotional opportunities in the retained fire services are limited of necessity to vacancies which arise in the fire fighters' own station. The LGMA is currently engaged with with staff representative bodies in relation to changing one aspect of promotion arrangements, as part of the overall terms of employment.

In summary, the issues of recruitment, retention, upskilling and promotion of retained firefighter are continuously monitored by the LGMA in association with the Management Board of the NDFEM. The aim is to ensure that the entire country continues to be served effectively into the coming decades by fire services that are equipped to face and meet the challenges of our ever-changing society.

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