Coronavirus: Up to 10% of Dublin fire service staff sidelined

Brigade recorded over 20% rise in calls to the emergency service in March

 Dennis Keeley: “We have managed to keep all our fire appliances and ambulances in service, with the support of staff and by redeploying uniformed personnel to the front line.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Dennis Keeley: “We have managed to keep all our fire appliances and ambulances in service, with the support of staff and by redeploying uniformed personnel to the front line.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw

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Up to 10 per cent of Dublin Fire Brigade staff are unavailable for duty due to coronavirus illness or protective isolation measures, chief fire officer Dennis Keeley has said.

The brigade recorded a 21 per cent increase in calls to the emergency service in March compared with the same period last year as the pandemic started to take hold, Mr Keeley said.

While the call volume has now stabilised, significant numbers of the brigade’s 850 firefighter paramedics were now in isolation awaiting tests, while a small number have also tested positive for the virus.

“We have 11 people who have tested positive and 85 currently in self isolation. It’s a fluid situation, because some of those who tested positive have recovered and are back in work, but we’re down about 8-10 per cent of our staff,” he said.

However, the fire service is maintaining “full operating capacity” Mr Keeley said.

“We have an array of staff depletion measures and . Retired members are also assisting us,” he said.

“In March there was a 21 per cent increase in activity on the same time last year, and I think that was because at the onset of Covid-19 people were very anxious and uncertain about whether they needed to go into hospital. That has settled as more information has become available.”

A second call centre had been established in the fire brigade training centre in the O’Brien Institute in Marino in north Dublin, and this allowed the services to separate calls related to the virus from calls for other emergencies and to allow staff to maintain greater distancing, he said.

There had been a “dramatic improvement” in Covid-19 test turnaround times this week he said, with results beginning to become available in three to four days, which would also help in getting staff back to work.

Emergency numbers

He urged the public to continue to contact the emergency numbers if they needed the fire service, or an ambulance if they felt they needed to go to hospital.

“I am very proud of the work Dublin Fire Brigade is carrying out, both our own fire fighter paramedics and those responding to the 999 and 111 calls. It’s very challenging and everyone is working flat out.”

Siptu, which represents firefighter paramedics, said while testing times were improving, fast-track testing was essential to maintaining emergency services.

“We need fast-track Covid-19 testing for all frontline essential services in local government including full-time and retained firefighters, and health professionals, as well as all local authority essential service workers which includes water services and roads,” Siptu organiser Brendan O’Brien said.

“The turnaround on testing was typically taking two weeks. It has reduced but we need to get it down to a couple of days. The longer it is taking to test firefighter paramedics and other front line staff the longer it takes them to get back to work.”

While Dublin Fire Brigade was still managing to maintain its full operations, despite the numbers of absent staff, this had meant remaining staff were working longer hours, Mr O’Brien said.

“The fire brigade is having to bring in people on overtime to make up the numbers to ensure a full service can be maintained. But that means people are not getting their rest periods, they are continuing to work when they should be at home resting.”

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