Red tape prevents crews closest to some fires from attending scene
RED tape is preventing the fire engine stationed closest to a blaze from attending some fires when an emergency call is made.
Fire tenders are being sent miles across poor roads to tackle fires because of "anomalies" in the system, which means the nearest appliance is not always sent, the Irish Independent has learned.
Official sources and firefighters have confirmed that lives are being put at risk because tenders are often not sent across county lines to fight fires – despite being closest to the emergency.
The problem was confined to about five parts of the country and was being addressed, they said.
"The problem occurs because each fire authority has a list of predetermined attendances, where a list of stations is on a system and an appliance based in a station close to the fire is sent," one said.
"However, there are cases where a station can be closer, but over the border, and is not sent. There's no more than a few cases, maybe five, and this is so self-evident. It's part of the change process and it's an issue that's getting resolved."
The findings emerged during a review of the fire services.
A new strategy document called 'Keeping Communities Safe' aims to reduce the number of fire authorities from 37 to 21, and could result in some station closures.
It comes as house fires have fallen to their lowest level in four decades, with 35,000 blazes reported last year, with 28 people losing their lives.
However, the Department of the Environment says we have a "high" number of chimney fires, with 5,000 recorded in 2012.
The Government now plans major reforms across the fire service. However, it is not planned to reduce the number of firefighters, which stands at 1,170 full-time and 2,063 retained, or part-time, staff.
The measures include:
• The number of firefighters on each appliance will be reduced from six to five for the first tender sent, and down one to four for the second.
• All fire services will be assessed to make sure they're achieving their targets on training and making efficiencies.
• Firefighters will be assessed after completing refresher training courses for using breathing apparatus. This will be extended to other training.
• The public will be given access to a register showing if public buildings have fire safety certificates and are properly licensed. The new system, called PRIME (Premises Risk Indexing Methodology), will be piloted from June.
"We intend to run it for all premises, including places of public assembly such as clubs, pubs, hospitals, nursing homes and other public buildings," a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said.
"It will include details on the number of people allowed in the premises. If someone feels it's overcrowded, they can contact their fire authority. We want to make this information available to the public."
However, unions are opposed to many of the changes, saying they will put lives at risk.
SIPTU National Retained Fire Service chairman, John Gavigan, said a ballot for industrial action would be held as the reform plan would involve fewer people on appliances and possible station closures.
"We're not running a service which is the same across the country," he said. "We've asked for a national fire authority for years, but they've only tinkered at the edges with it."