FEARS have been expressed over increasing pressures on fire crews in County Waterford.
Members of the Waterford Fire Service based at Kilmacthomas and Portlaw have expressed growing concerns over an increasing strain on resources.
“We’re sailing very close to the wind,” said one member who spoke to The Munster Express.
Their concerns centre on changes made to the numbers required to be ‘on call’ at any given time which they believe are “not practical” due to current 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 changes require 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.
“Stations like Dungarvan and Waterford City may have the resources to be able to guarantee that five members are ‘on call’ at any given time but we are not in that position,” said the concerned member of Waterford Fire Service who spoke to The Munster Express.
They have expressed grave concerns that a serious incident will occur that they will not be able to respond to and have highlighted a recent incident when both Kilmacthomas and Portlaw stations were ‘off the run’ at the same time and a crew from Dungarvan had to respond to an emergency call-out.
“We were willing to respond but because of the new requirement we were not allowed. Thankfully it wasn’t the most serious of incidents, but something more serious will happen and it will be too late,” he said Cllr Declan Clune (SF) raised the issue at last week’s Comeragh District meeting of Waterford City & County Council.
He highlighted 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 this year.
“I believe this is unacceptable and it can’t be allowed to continue,” said Cllr Clune.
“I was made aware of one occasion where a call came in and nobody could go from Portlaw and nobody could go from Kilmac so a unit had to come from Dungarvan. There was almost an hour of ‘lead time’.”
He continued: “We have a new state of the art facility in Portlaw and there are plans for Kilmac and yet it takes an hour to respond to an incident. From what I understand, this is a HR issue and it seems to be going on for the last two years. This is unacceptable.”
In response to a query from The Munster Express, Waterford City & County Council stated: “The Fire Service mobilisation system has in built resilience to ensure the nearest available resource is dispatched to an emergency. This ensures that a response can be sent at times where fire stations may be busy with other calls or where a brigade is off the run. Fire Stations may be taken off the run for a number of reasons which include but are not limited to staff shortages, essential crew training and vehicle break down and repair. A strict protocol is in place to ensure the next nearest fire station is alerted to any emergency during that time and that all necessary personnel are aware of the situation.”
The statement continued: “Fire Service policy is that any response to an emergency requires at least five firefighters. Where this number is unavailable the fire station may be taken off the run. This is only done when absolutely necessary and helps ensure a prompt response from the next available fire station.
“Management at all times strive to ensure staffing levels are maintained in fire stations with regular recruitment drives pre-empting potential staff shortages. However there have been periods of time where resignations, sick leave and other absences have lead to an unforeseen drop in staff numbers.”