Leitrim is to ‘share’ its fire services with counties Sligo and Roscommon within two years according to a new national policy document published by Minister Phil Hogan last week. Local firefighters have rejected the plans which could see crew reduction and station closures and have commenced a ballot for industrial action.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, last week published two major reports on the future direction of the fire service in Ireland, which he has adopted as national policy, and announced that the implementation phase starts now. The “Keeping Communities Safe” (KCS) proposes to reduce fire services in Ireland from 30 to 21 within two years. Part of these cuts is seven shared services schemes. Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo are to join together to share fire services by 2015, services in Cavan/Monaghan and Longford/ Westmeath are also proposed to be shared.
The affects of these plans on Leitrim, its fire crew and stations is unsure at this stage, as it is unknown to what extent services will be shared between the three counties. There are concerns that some rural fire stations could be closed as part of the cutting costs scheme, there are currently five fire stations in Leitrim located at Carrick-on-Shannon, Manorhamilton, Mohill, Ballinamore and Drumshanbo. National Retained Fire Service Chairperson, John Gavigan, said, “This policy will lead to further reductions in services, particularly in rural areas, and the closure of fire stations. This is following a similar policy of closures of rural post offices and Garda stations.”
The policy document provides for the local authorities to remain as the fire authorities but service delivery is to be reshaped “to enhance consistency and to achieve efficiencies.” The new Leitrim/ Roscommon/ Sligo service will service a population of 161,256 and will bring together 15 fire stations, four full time staff and 140 retained fire fighters.
The new plan also suggests that the three regional centres that take and direct 999/112 calls be merged into a single national system.
The Minister noted that front-line fire-fighters have been protected from the embargo on public service recruitment and their numbers have not decreased since 2008.
SIPTU Retained Firefighters are commencing a ballot for industrial action aimed at resisting the introduction of plans to cut fire services, they say the plans will “endanger fire crews and local communities.”
Firefighters from all 34 fire services across the country have rejected the planned changes to working practices contained in “Keeping Communities Safe”.
SIPTU Retained Firefighters will now commence a ballot for industrial action, including strike action, aimed at resisting the implementation of the proposals contained in this document. SIPTU Sector Organiser, Michael Wall, said, “The decision to reduce crew levels by 20% and to change many automatic fire calls to discretionary calls will not only delay response times but also increase the risk to Firefighters and the general public.”
The Irish Fire & Emergency Services Association (IFESA) has called on the Minster for the Environment, “to suspend proposed changes in the Irish Fire Service.” IFESA National Chairman, John Kidd said, “Any attempt to reconfigure and reduce the fire services before we know the details and circumstances that led to the loss of our two colleagues in Bray and the lessons to be learned from that tragic incident will be premature, and ultimately pointless.” The IFESA has warned that the KCS proposals will result in the loss of hundreds of front line fire fighter posts around the country.
The paper contacted Leitrim Fire Service for a comment on the new plans, but there was no one available to comment.