Firefighters willing to strike over crewing reductions, say unions

Trade unions unhappy with proposals to reduce crewing numbers for fire brigades

Fire services personnel protest outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Fire services personnel protest outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Firefighters may strike if the Government proceeds with a proposed reduction in crewing numbers, according to trade union officials.

Speaking at a rally outside Government Buildings in Dublin attended by about 700 fire services personnel, Siptu organiser Brendan O’Brien said plans to reduce the amount of firefighters in response crews would jeopardise both emergency services members and the general public.

“We want a commitment from the Government not to jeopardise the safety of either firefighters or the public by making dangerous cuts in the crewing level,” he said. “The Government is ignoring international reports which show that reducing crewing levels increases injuries to firefighters, as well as reducing the service to the public,.

Siptu, which represents about 3,000 fire services personnel nationwide, is currently balloting retained - or part-time - firefighters for industrial action over proposals contained within a Department of Environment briefing document which could see crew numbers cut by up to 33 per cent.

“The department has sent us back various responses to date which don’t answer the fundamental questions we have,” said Mr O’Brien. “If they move to implement these crewing reductions, there’s a strong likelihood that industrial action will follow.”

The revisions to the fire service were originally set out in a departmental document entitled Keeping Communities Safe which was published in 2013.

According to unions, a “Good Practice Note” released last month sought to activate a clause which states that a minimum crew of four should be deployed to incidents rather than the current standard of six.

Government officials said the note came about after consultation with unions, and is intended to give guidance on safe and effective fire services.

In her address to the crowd, Antoinette Keegan of the Stardust Families’ Committee spoke of her disbelief over current Dublin Fire Brigade staffing levels .

“Thirty-four years after 48 people lost their lives, I find it hard to believe that there are only two operational fire prevention officers in Dublin at present. This situation means that clubs, pubs, restaurants and hotels are not being inspected on a regular basis,” she said.

Cork firefighter Noel Healy said his colleagues are concerned about the prospect of major disasters occurring if cuts are followed through with.

“You’ve seen the likes of Priory Hall, and we don’t want to be part of another Stardust... we don’t want any more firefighters deaths in Ireland, we’ve had enough this decade,” he said.

“If you say that five fire engines turn up at a scene, it sounds good but in those five fire engines you’ll be lucky to have a crew that will man two at present. For once, this dispute is nothing to do with pay or pay increases, this is about health and safety,” he said.