Firefighters could strike over crew reduction plan

Michael Spillane says new guidelines will reduce the effectiveness of fire crews. Photo: Michelle Ghee. www.gphotos.ie
Plans to reduce crew levels could result in local firefighters taking industrial action.

Plans to reduce crew levels could result in local firefighters taking industrial action.

Michael Spillane, Station Officer at Edgeworthstown Fire Station and a member of SIPTU’s national negotiating committee, told the Longford Leader the county’s firefighters are currently balloting on a decision to take industrial action “up to and including strike action” over proposals contained within the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management’s ‘Keeping Communities Safe’ document.

“The result is due on March 20,” Mr Spillane said.

At present, each fire engine involved in a call-out is manned by a crew of six, but under the new guidelines this would be reduced to five firefighters on the first vehicle despatched from a fire station, and four on subsequent units.

“Each standard - or ‘class B’ - fire engine is designed to take a crew of six,” Mr Spillane explained. “This includes the incident commander, a driver-mechanic, and four firefighters. The incident commander has ultimate responsibility for the scene, and the driver-mechanic operates the pumps. If you commit two firefighters to entering a building, you must have two more outside as an emergency team who can go in if they experience difficulties.”

Mr Spillane cited an incident in Gort, Co Galway, last year where two people died in an apartment fire because an emergency team was not available due to staff shortages.

“Our fear is that this will become the norm, rather than the exception to the rule,” the union representative admitted. “How can four firefighters deal effectively with a fire? I can’t see it being possible. I have asked for a training syllabus but I haven’t been given one.”

Mr Spillane went on to say he has spoken to several firefighters on the matter.

“The consensus is that they are prepared to go to any lengths required to stop the Keeping Communities Safe document from being implemented,” he said. “Our principal concern is for the welfare of the firefighters and the community at large.”