FEARS are heightening over staffing levels in Waterford Fire Service which is resulting in a number of stations being unable to respond to serious incidents.The retained fire service in Kilmacthomas has not been in operation for a number of weeks.Additionally, The Munster Express understands that on Sunday July 8th, four retained fire stations in County Waterford were ‘off the run’ – Kilmacthomas, Portlaw, Lismore and Tallow.Retained firefighters work on a part time basis, are generally employed in rural areas and small towns and villages, and live in close proximity to their fire station.Concerned retained firefighters in County Waterford say the numbers required to be ‘on call’ at any given time are “not practical” due to current staffing levels.Firefighters at the Kilmacthomas station have been available and willing to respond to recent incidents but the station has been declared ‘off the run’ as it does not meet required staffing levels.
Rural stations such as Kilmacthomas and Portlaw have generally employed eight staff members and, traditionally, four members were required to be ‘on call’ while four were ‘not on call’ at any given time.However, the current requirements seek a fifth person to be ‘on call’.When numbers fall below five, the service is declared ‘off the run’ which means that crews cannot respond to an emergency call-out.Fire stations such as Dungarvan and Waterford City are more likely to have the resources to meet the criteria – however it proves more difficult for smaller stations such as Kilmacthomas.Cllr Seanie Power (FG) raised the issue at the July plenary meeting of Waterford City & County Council held last week in Dungarvan.He said the issue related to the wider fire service in Waterford but is particularly problematic for Kilmacthomas which currently has seven retained firefighters.
Cllr Power pointed out that should a fire or road traffic accident occur in the Kilmacthomas area, the nearest alternative fire station is in Portlaw.However, he highlighted that the Portlaw station has also been ‘off the run’ in recent times, meaning the nearest fire stations are in Dungarvan, Tramore and Waterford City.Cllr Power said firefighters in Kilmacthomas, who were willing to respond to incidents, would have to watch alternative crews attending an emergency within their own jurisdiction.
He said “time is essential” in such cases.He added that the firefighters do a “brilliant” and “dangerous” job but called for staffing levels at Kilmacthomas Fire Station to be increased to 10 so that there can be five ‘on’ and five ‘off’ at any given time.Meanwhile, Cllr John O’Leary (FF) described the situation in relation to part time firefighters in Waterford as “grave”.He pointed out that four retained fire services were ‘off the run’ on Sunday July 8th during what was “one of the busiest and warmest weekends” so far this year.He said there is “a lot of discontent” amongst firefighters which is a “grave injustice” as they are “very dedicated people”.Cllr O’Leary sought clarification on what was happening and said Councillors were receiving a lot of representation on the issue.“Nobody wants a situation where life is put in danger,” he said.
Mayor of Waterford City & County Cllr Declan Doocey (FG) supported the comments of Cllr Power and Cllr O’Leary.He outlined that he had first-hand experience of a fire on Sunday July 8th when a “roaring fire” broke out on his farm which he described as “frightening”.“Only for the fire service it would have been an awful lot worse,” he said.“It’s so important that all our crews are available 24/7, especially in this heat,” he added.Director of Services (Housing, Community and Emergency Services) Ivan Grimes said arrangements are always in place for situations where a retained fire station is not available to respond to calls.“Cover is provided in such cases on a predetermined basis by the nearest station,” he said.Mr Grimes explained that the availability of all fire stations is communicated by local fire services management to the Munster Regional Communications Centre in Limerick which operates the emergency services phone line for the Munster region.
In relation to Kilmacthomas, he said there are ongoing discussions with staff and their union in an attempt to resolve the situation as soon as possible.However, he said he was not in a position to comment any further on the matter.Staffing issues within Waterford Fire Service have been ongoing for a number of years but appear to have come to a head in recent weeks.In October 2016, The Munster Express reported that between August 1st 2014 and August 1st 2016, Portlaw was ‘off the run’ on 25 occasions and Kilmacthomas was ‘off the run’ on 28 occasions.During this period there were two occasions where both brigades were ‘off the run’ at the same time.In addition, this also occurred for periods of time on August 6th and 7th of that year.