Cork firefighters walking away from service due to part-time wages for full-time commitment

Full time work being done for part Time wages says councillor

Cork's County Mayor, Cllr Danny Collins, Council CEO Tim Lucey and Seamus Coughlan, Chief Fire Officer, Cork County Fire Service were on hand to take delivery of three new fire engines at County Hall in Cork this week.

Concubhar Ó LiatháinCorkman

In the same week as the authority took delivery of three state of the art fire engines, an elected member of Cork County Council who is also an officer in the Fire Service in Cork City has spoken about the difficult conditions faced by members of the Fire Service working for Cork County Council.

According to Cllr Michael Paul Murtaigh, a Fine Gael member of the Council, firefighters working for Cork County Council are working on a virtual full time basis for part time wages and this was the reason why many were walking away from the service, leaving stations understaffed, some to a critical level.

Cllr Murtagh was speaking after a motion raised by Councillor Caroline Cronin seeking a review of the pay of fire fighters received unanimous approval from councillors at Monday’s meeting of the body.

Cllr Cronin told the meeting that a major gorse fire near Schull was attended by a ‘skeleton crew’ of just seven fire fighters on February 26/27 while only five were available to attend the scene on February 28.

Other councillors echoed Cllr Cronin’s concerns with accounts of how fire stations in their areas were experiencing staffing difficulties.

One of the issues, according to Cllr Murtagh, is that fire fighters working for Cork County Council are working on a retainer which means they get a set allowance per week to be on call with additional payments if they are called out to attend to a fire or a myriad of other emergencies that call on the service of front line personnel.

“You could be talking about resuscitation for a cardiac arrest or a rapid flowing water rescue,” he said.

Previously the positions of retained fire fighters were dominated by council labourers and the fees they received for this work helped augment their wages as council workers. This made the positions more attractive for council workers.

Now the number of workers such as cleaners, labourers and road workers employed by the council has been cut back to the bare bones which depletes the number of candidates for the retained fire fighters positions and the extra time needed by these firefighters to attend to added duties and training to be able to attend the various emergencies has led them to become unattractive employees for firms in the private sector.

“It’s developed from what is a part-time job to taking on these roles,” said Cllr. Murtagh, who gave an outline of these additional roles being carried out by firefighters in a ‘professional era’.

“It’s not just a local house fire or factory that’s on file,” he said. “There’s a multitude of roles and they’re all really professional roles like height rescues, swift river rescues, cardiac first response, and there are medical qualifications involved in that.”

He said modern standards required first class training for all these roles which added to the time commitments of fire fighters and this was seen as a liability by employers and adding to the drain of firefighters.

This in turn was leading to skeleton crews in fire stations and putting these fire fighters under pressure at work and at home.