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Top-heavy fire service costing vital frontline

Why does Munster need more fire chiefs on whopper salaries than serve the entire greater London metropolitan area?

As cutbacks bite, fire stations have shut, firefighter job vacancies go unfilled, and millions have been hacked off the fire service budget -- yet there are hundreds of high-earning senior fire officers, research by the Sunday Independent has discovered.

"Compared with other jurisdictions the droves of senior managers is extraordinary," one source in the sector said.

Greater London, population 7.7 million, has one chief fire officer (CFO) and six senior staff.

For the six counties of Munster, with a population 1.1 million, there are 10 CFOs, 20 senior assistant CFOs, 40 assistant CFOs, and up to 20 assistant FOs.

Ireland, with a population 4.1 million, has 29 CFOs. Scotland, with a population of 5.1 million, has just eight.

Chief fire officers earn between €78,000 and €95,000, "but many take home well into six figures when allowances of as much as €30,000 are added", our source said. Then there are 82 senior assistant CFOs earning €73,000-€87,117.

There are layers of top brass job titles across 37 local authority fire service areas: CFO, senior assistant CFO, assistant CFO, senior executive FO, second and third FOs -- six grades where pay and allowances can pass €80,000.

It all adds up to an annual pay bill circa €20m.

Firefighters earn a fraction of this, with pay rates starting at €24,821 and stopping at €44,148 after 17 years of duty.

In total, there are 272 senior fire officers. There are 2,459 firefighters, full and part-time. That's one senior manager for every nine firefighters. The recommended ratio is one in 20, according to the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA).

"We have the most supervised fire service in the world," says John Kidd of the IFESA, "Yet there are cuts in budgets for training and frontline positions are not being filled.

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"In Co Offaly three part-time fire stations closed in order to save €100,000, yet there are seven assistant CFOs earning close to €100,000 each in the Laois-Offaly area."

Mr Kidd says that €1 in every €4 in the fire service is spent on management.

"An integrated service with fewer managers would save €70m," he maintains.

Fine Gael TD Terence Flanagan says numbers must be cut. "I think there could be four or five CFOs for the whole country. These positions are an extravagance we can't afford."

The Chief Fire Officers' Association will hold its annual conference on May 4.

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