“Retained fire services have been in crisis for quite some time.” That is the view of Keith Lewis, a Portlaoise Fire Fighter and Fire Service Union Representative.
Recruitment and retention are the core issues at the heart of the crisis which has now evolved into a nationwide industrial action.
“We’re looking to retain the skilled staff that we have, because there’s quite a lot invested in fire fighters’ training and skills,” Keith said.
“We turn out to everything from rescue from heights to hazardous chemicals. We are highly skilled and local authorities invest a lot in us, training wise.
“But it has come to a stage where society has evolved so much but the fire service hasn’t evolved along with it. Times have changed but the fire service hasn’t changed along with it.
“People are getting itchy feet now and thinking about leaving. As well as that, it’s getting harder and harder to get new people to join the service.
“Portlaoise has always had a compliment of 12 but it is over three years since we’ve been on 12 members, which was unheard of before then.
“There was a meeting on the 10th of May where negotiations broke down. The LGMA (Local Government Management Agency) came in and said they could give us extra time off, but couldn’t do anything about the pay,” Keith said.
The fire service are demanding a complete reform in the fire service, including structured pay and structured time off.
It is hoped that this will help to attract new members as well as alleviating ongoing issues affecting current staff.
Retainers start at below €9,000 per year with the only guaranteed income on top of that coming from one weekly shift of two hours in-station.
“If you’re going for a mortgage or a loan, banks and financial institutions won’t take into consideration the fire calls because they’re not a given,” Keith said.
“People are relying on social welfare or a second job and the current fire service demands so much of people that it limits what outside jobs you can do.
Industrial action officially began on Tuesday, June 6. All fire calls are being answered but no special services will be carried out. This will last for one week.
The second week of industrial action begins nationally on Tuesday, June 13, with 50% of stations closing on a rolling basis. The following day, Wednesday, June 14, the other 50% of stations closing.
Week 3 will see 100% closure of retained fire stations, beginning on Tuesday, June 20, if there is no re-engagement from the government and the LGMA.
“Our negotiating committee made every effort with the LGMA and the government,” Keith said.
“Every fire fighter just feels burnt out.”