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Turnover of Clare’s retained firefighters ‘like a revolving door’

THE turnover of Clare’s retained firefighters is “like a revolving door” with 47 people leaving the service since 2016, a meeting of Clare County Council was told this week.

However, council CEO Pat Dowling has insisted “Clare Fire and Rescue Service is not in a state of crisis.”

Councillor Liam Grant, who works as a retained firefighter in Ennistymon, outlined that a full crew at Killaloe fire station would usually consist of nine firefighters but there are just seven at the moment.

“There’s a lot of pressure being put on those seven and if they don’t get back-up, I’m full sure some will resign. When fully staffed we have 75 retained firefighters in the county. Since 2016, 47 people have left the fire service in Clare that weren’t at retirement age. We’ve had a turnover of about 60% in the last few years. It wasn’t because they retired, they just didn’t want to do it anymore. This is not sustainable”.

He added, “It takes a few years to get firefighters up to scratch, but it’s like a revolving door at the moment.” He said that Clare is being used as a “stepping stone” for training before firefighters move on to full time work in other counties.

He said one of the reasons for the high turnover is the “huge burden” being a retained firefighter can have on a family. Councillor Grant claimed, “You would have got a lot more money on the PUP than you would as a retained firefighter in Clare.”

He was joined by Councillors Johnny Flynn, Ian Lynch, Cillian Murphy, Donna McGettigan, Joe Garrihy and Shane Talty in a motion calling on the local authority to “urgently review and update” the Clare County Fire & Emergency Operations Plan 2014-2019.

The joint motion outlined that “Many retained fire stations around the country are struggling to stay up and running. The council should put together a report as to what can be done internally to ensure all stations in County Clare remain operational.”

The council was asked to include in the report a comparison of the retained fire service in County Cork, which uses a week on, week off system, and whether a similar strategy could be implemented here.

“The objective of the review and report would be to continue the important work of Clare Fire and Rescue Service (which is in place to protect life, property and respond to civic emergencies in Clare) in order that now and into the future Clare is not left with an understaffed and inexperienced fire service,” the motion concluded.

Adrian Kelly, Chief Fire Officer in response stated, “Although a significant number of firefighters enjoy a long career in the service, the nature of the retained fire service nationally is that there is a constant throughput of people, particularly in recent years. Reasons for personnel leaving have included, moving to other employment, retirement, personal / family circumstances or the restrictions of the on-call availability of the role.”

He said he did not agree with some of the figures outlined at the meeting. “Currently in Clare we have 75 retained firefighters positions across seven stations. At this time there are six vacancies across the county, four of which have arisen since September. These vacant posts have been advertised and interviews are scheduled,” he said.

He outlined that Clare County Council’s current “Fire & Emergency Operations Plan” was adopted at the 2014 April Council Meeting.  The 2014 plan considered the 2013 government policy
“Keeping Communities Safe” which remains the current guidance on fire services delivery in Ireland.

The plan was for a five-year period, with the expectation that there would be further changes to government policy on the fire service at a national level within the plan’s lifetime, that would then form part of the next review. 

At the December 2018 Physical Development Strategic Policy Committee Chief Kelly provided an update on the current plan, and indicated specific items for consideration for the next one.

These included the outcome of a national review of the retained fire service and the potential implications of the EU Court of Justice – 2018 Matzak Ruling which determined that in the case of a Belgian Firefighter, his stand-by period must be considered as working time in its entirety.

“As there were no changes to government policy within the period, and there was no update on either “National Review” or the “Matzak Ruling”, both of which potentially have a significant bearing on service delivery of the Fire Services in Ireland, it was agreed to postpone the review of the Fire & Emergency Operations Plan until a later date to allow for the completion of those matters,” stated the chief. In the interim a Fire Station Upgrade Programme and achieving ISO 45001:2018 Health and Safety Standard were progressed.

He continued, “As it is expected that both the “National Review” and the “Matzak Ruling” will reach conclusion in the near future, it is intended that the Fire & Operations Plan will be reviewed and brought to the Strategic Policy Committee for their attention with a view to adopting a new Plan in 2022.”

The response concluded, “In September this year, the Management Board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management has approved the undertaking of a review of the model of local authority ‘retained’ fire services delivery, with particular emphasis on the recruitment and retention of staff. Clare County Council are taking part in this review, along with all other Fire Authorities, and will implement any such recommendations that emerge from this review.”

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