Many people may have a very romantic notion of the big red fire engine and what our firemen and fire women do but the reality is quite different.
Minister Phil Hogan, Minister for Environment has devised a policy document called keeping communities safe.
At page 21of the document we read that much thought was given to a national fire service, but to achieve efficiencies and go from 30 fire services to 21, it states a national fire service this is not the way. Of course the Minister’s notion of ‘National’ differs from our own but he isn’t even contemplating the development of an integrated fire service across the 26 Counties.
Cooperation between the services north and south is vital, but lets be clear, a fully national fire service across the 32 counties would provide the best service to our communities.
It does seem when you delve more into the document that investment is the last thing on their mind. The current funding and structure, pits fire stations at very different levels.
One may have new equipment; one may have different additional training.
From my own experience dealing recently with members of Athy fire station, who have implemented many of the document’s changes within the year, it's the quickest rather than nearest station to the fire which now gets the first call.
Two of the stations they deal with do not have the same river training which is quite worrying. But we are assured that is being addressed.
Their equipment is also different than counties they are now working with. That's just an example of the concerns brought from the fire workers.
We cannot have the current situation where firemen and women serving on neighbouring districts are using different equipment. Very hard to believe but it seems that investment or procurement currently can not be centralised as there were 30 different fire authorities across this state.
The directors of service in councils controlling the purse strings are not investing in the fire brigades . Only in December past, a rural community in Galway was told to invest in fire alarms as they won't be getting a fire station. Do these public servants believe this is helpful for communities.
Last October the consequences of cutbacks in the fire service was highlighted when Wicklow County Council was convicted of health and safety violations relating to the death of two fire-fighters. Let's demand a fire service that is centralised.
There should be standardised and ongoing training for all firemen that help to keep our communities safe.
A grant for employers to make it easier to employ retained firemen, national updating of the all equipment and national standards for this should be statutory.
Delegates, a national fire service would be a step forward for the fire service. It's time for change and reform, there is another way and it's badly needed.