30/09/14 Senator Daly on Seanad Matters on the Adjournment: Fire Services

Senator Daly :I welcome the Minister to the House. The matter I raise is directed to his colleague in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly. It relates to the fire service nationally and the changes that have occurred, specifically the concerns of members of the fire service in County Kerry. The view is that the changes put members of the fire crew at risk.

Minister Varadkar: I thank Senator Daly for raising this matter. I am responding to the debate on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It relates to the development of fire services in Ireland using the standards and norms in the policy document Keeping Communities Safe, KCS.

It is a function of each individual fire authority, under the Fire Services Act 1981, to provide a fire service in its functional area. Kerry County Council’s fire services are provided primarily through a retained staffing system with full-time officers. Retained firefighters are employees of fire authorities, and are organised to provide a fire service through a network of ten fire stations located throughout the county.

Published as national policy in February 2013, the national standards contained in KCS are in keeping with international good practice and are considered crucial to achieving consistency across fire services. From the outset, the work undertaken has focused on the integration of national norms and standards into service planning within each fire service in the period 2013-15.

The approach in KCS is based on an area risk categorisation system which will be applied by all fire services. That will result in fire station areas being graded across five bands from very high to very low-risk categories. The fire service approach to risk management, including response in terms of numbers of fire appliances and fire crews in an area, is to correspond to the risk categorisation. The risk categorisation process has been completed for County Kerry and appropriate risk designations for each station area in the county have been determined.

For the first time KCS sets national norms for crewing levels. The KCS standard is that the normal crewing level on the first responding class B fire appliance is five, including an incident commander, with four personnel on the second or subsequent appliances mobilised from the same station. In establishing national standards and norms, the KCS document reflects widespread practice in Ireland and elsewhere for crewing levels on appliances. A series of task analyses has been prepared to show how an initial crew of five may be used to safely undertake tasks normally associated with a range of fire scenarios.

Rather than compromising or threatening the safety of firefighters, initiatives under KCS enhance the safety of firefighting personnel. The policy provisions are based on the systems approach and international best practice which have shown how the approaches adopted in KCS can achieve better results in terms of public safety. Safety provisions under KCS include guidance on managing safety in fire services, and risk assessments for equipment. They complement existing safeguards such as the national incident command system, the ancillary safety statement, breathing apparatus guidelines and a comprehensive suite of standard operating guidelines.

It is expected that fire service management will bring any proposals for significant change in fire service provision to their local authorities for consideration. The principles of local democracy and local accountability for service provision are maintained in KCS, while the objectives of national standards for important public services such as fire services are introduced.

Senator Daly: I thank the Minister for the comprehensive reply. I wish to raise a point of clarification. I accept the matter does not relate to the ministerial responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. Is it the case that the final say on the proposals rests with local authorities and their members or will the county manager or CEO have the final say on the adoption of the new proposals?

Minister Varadkar: I am not fully sure, but what I am told is that it is an objective in KCS for each service to develop a new format fire and emergency operations plan. That is provided for in section 26 of the Fire Services Act. Proposed plans are then put forward for consideration and adoption by the relevant county council or city council. All services are developing section 26 plans, taking account of the area risk categorisation, which requires consideration and adoption by the council. I am afraid I do not know whether that is an executive function or a reserved function but I imagine section 26 of the Act clarifies the matter.

Senator Daly: I thank the Minister.

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