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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 7 Dec 2021

Vol. 1015 No. 4

Dublin Fire Brigade: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

recognises the key role played by members of the Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) as frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic;

acknowledges that:

— DFB provides an invaluable fire, rescue and ambulance service for the Greater Dublin Area;

— this service saves countless lives and reduces the physical impact of medical emergencies to individuals as well as preventing damage to residential and commercial property daily;

— the DFB is an emergency service that is at crisis point due to prolonged staff shortages; and

— these staff shortages are having a detrimental impact on the well-being of current firefighters and the ability of the wider organisation to maintain a first-class service to those living, working and visiting Dublin City and County;

notes that:

— only 36 new recruits are currently in training and are due to enter the DFB workforce in December 2021;

— this will not provide the necessary increase in staffing resources to reach agreed safe staffing levels, given the anticipated increase in retirements due to take place over the next year; and

— the dependence on overtime by current DFB staff to meet daily fire tender and ambulance operational manning levels is unsustainable and that, on certain watches, there are not sufficient staff available to allow for the full complement of fire tenders to be deployed, which has resulted in the curtailment of services throughout 2021; and

calls on the Government to:

— recognise the risk of burn-out posed to current staff from repeatedly working overtime to cover staff shortages;

— provide funding to employ additional fire services staff by offering positions to all those currently on the recruitment panel for the Greater Dublin Area and plan for further expansion in the years ahead;

— urgently ensure every effort is made to conclude an agreement on overall operational manning levels for DFB and other outstanding issues currently being negotiated between Dublin City Council, DFB management and staff representative bodies;

— ensure that all firefighters and officers are fully trained to manage high-rise fire and medical emergencies and schedule a full training programme to ensure full competencies across all watches and stations, including retained stations; and

— fully resource the DFB so that it can acquire and maintain fire appliances that are needed to deliver a fully functioning fire and rescue service in a growing and expanding City and County.”

I am sharing with a number of colleagues. I commend the firefighters and ambulance paramedics of Dublin Fire Brigade, who have a long and proud tradition of keeping our community safe, especially during the pandemic. When most people were being told to stay home and stay safe, front-line workers like the members of the Dublin Fire Brigade donned their gear, left their families and went to work.

I will outline what the Government and Dublin Fire Brigade management need to do to support our firefighters and ambulance staff. They need to initiate two back-to-back recruitment training classes to be scheduled immediately to exhaust the current training panel and alleviate the situation in a timely manner; immediately establish a new panel to allow for further recruitment classes to be trained; support every effort made by both sides to reach an agreement on overall Dublin Fire Brigade operational manning levels and other outstanding issues currently being negotiated; ensure all firefighters and officers are fully trained in managing high-rise fire and medical emergencies; schedule a full training programme to ensure full competencies across all watches and stations, including retained stations; fully implement the recommendations of the fire safety task force group report published by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in July 2018; and recognise the propensity of staff to suffer from burnout if repeatedly working overtime to cover staff shortages, provide information to staff regarding the tall-tale signs of burnout and support for staff who may be suffering from burnout. I will return later to the issue of resources and a strategic plan for the future growth of Dublin Fire Brigade in an ever-growing Dublin, in terms of both population and business.

At the start of this pandemic, firefighters and paramedics in the Dublin Fire Brigade did not know what was ahead of them. That did not matter as they had a job to do which involved saving lives, supporting our communities and keeping them safe. Over recent weeks, I have met with trade union representatives, firefighters, the chief fire officer and staff in Dublin City Council. The firefighters talked about how they are demoralised. They were working excessively long hours covering shifts and are fearful for their own and others' safety if the situation of staff shortages continues.

Here are the hard numbers. All agree the current number of firefighters is 965. However, there are currently 35 vacancies, 35 on bereavement leave and 30 on special projects. All accept these are important projects but it adds to the problem of staff shortages. I acknowledge 35 new recruits are to come in December or January with a new class of 45 to start in February. However, these 45 recruits will not be added to the roster until at least the end of 2022 as it takes a minimum of ten months to train a firefighter.

Today a firefighter informed me that the Dublin Fire Brigade factor in 30 to 35 retirements each year and a firefighter told me yesterday at a meeting that it is like filling a bucket but the holes are getter bigger each year. He said what is happening at the moment is not even enough to cover people who are leaving through retirement. It is clear that what is being done to relieve the pressure on workers will not solve the problem in the coming years and staff are at risk of burnout, which will impact their health and safety, along with that of our citizens. This must be seen as an urgent matter for the Government.

As I said, I will return later to the resources, the expansion of Dublin city and county and the strategic plan for Dublin Fire Brigade as Dublin grows. The Minister has heard the statistics we have been given by the trade unions and the chief fire officer, who admitted they are not sufficient for the current numbers, let alone for a growing Dublin.

Eighty years ago in May 1941, Dublin Fire Brigade crews were hailed as heroes across the nation for their quick response in rushing headlong to Belfast to help their colleagues and the citizens there to tackle the fires and destruction from a night-long Luftwaffe bombardment of the city. That is just one moment which their successors, today's firefighters, look back on with pride. There are many other reasons for them and us to be proud of Dublin Fire Brigade.

Like all other front-line services, they did not have to be asked twice to step up when this pandemic hit our shores. As the emergency ambulance services for the greater Dublin area, the men and women of Dublin Fire Brigade have been run off their feet trying to cope with Covid calls on top of their ordinary, or extraordinary, work day-in, day-out. Despite being often hamstrung by huge staff shortages, they have got the job done but they are at breaking point. They are emulating the firefighting heroes of the past daily and the least we can do is ensure they have a full complement of staff to carry out their duties and the equipment to do their jobs, nothing more or less. Dublin Fire Brigade does not have the pull to deal with the large staff shortages which are beginning to cripple the service. It needs to do much more to deliver for Dublin in terms of fire, rescue and ambulance services. As the city expands and grows upwards, it needs more emergency medical technicians, EMTs, and first responders delivering Dublin's fire rescue and ambulance services, saving lives and tackling emergencies.

Is an bealach is fearr tacaíocht a thabhairt do Bhriogáid Dóiteáin Bhaile Átha Cliath, atá i mbaol teip, ná na bearnaí foirne a líonadh láithreach agus an trealamh agus gléasra atá de dhíth orthu a sholáthar. Gan sin, beidh tuilleadh ócáidí ann nuair nach bhfuil iomlán clúdach seirbhísí lucht dóiteáin ag an gcathair. Go truamhéalach, is nuair a tharlóidh oll-thimpiste nó éigeandáil mhór a thuigfear i gceart toradh an ghanntanais foirne atá ag an tseirbhís éigeandála seo. Tá an chathair ag brath ar fhir agus mná atá traochta, atá ag déanamh ragobair de shíor gan aon fhaoiseamh le feiscint agus le trealamh atá sean nó ag éirí sean. Tá gá le gníomh láithreach ón Aire, ó Chomhairle Cathrach Bhaile Átha Cliath agus ón HSE; gníomh práinneach sula dtarlaíonn an t-uafás atá á thuar agamsa.

This day 22 years ago my grandmother died, unfortunately. We all miss her greatly. When she was sick she was taken to hospital in a Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance. That is the experience of my family: the care we got, the compassion with which we were treated, the speed, efficiency and all-round decency of the men and women who turned up. That is the experience of thousands of Dubliners. The Minister knows this and is proud of the Dublin Fire Brigade, as I am. It is an important service, not just for who its members are and what they do, but for what they represent to the people of Dublin. It is a highly trained service. Its members are trained paramedics and firefighters but they are not well resourced. They are enthusiastic and willing and they put themselves in danger. They are capable and highly trained and we are all proud of them but we do not have enough firefighters for the city and county.

The Minister and I represent a constituency with a rapidly growing population, which is welcome. It is great to see so many young people across north County Dublin but we need a fire service that is fit for today and future-proofed to take account of the growing population and the growing number of housing developments. These developments are going upwards in many cases, rather than outwards, and that requires specialised equipment. We need a fire service to service the capital city and county that is fit for purpose and future-proofed.

The purpose of this motion is to show our support and that of the Oireachtas for the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade.

We need to acknowledge that there is a reason they balloted for industrial action They did not do that without reason. These are people who take their job extremely seriously. I know this because I worked as a union official for a long time and I worked with Dublin Fire Brigade on many occasions. Its members do not want to be in the business of talking to politicians or union officials; they want to get on with doing the work for which they are highly trained and competent and well capable of doing. When they have to ballot for industrial action, step out of their comfort zone and their area of work and into industrial relations and health and safety legislation, that should set off alarm bells in the Minister's office and across the city and county. We have an opportunity this evening to speak as an Oireachtas with one voice and to say to the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade that we hear their concerns, we understand them and that the resources they need will be provided.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Paul Donnelly, on bringing forth this important motion. Like others, and as all Deputies who contribute to the debate this evening probably will do, I pay tribute to the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade, our firefighters, ambulance staff and paramedics. I do not think there is a Member of this House who, either directly from family experience or as a constituency politician, has not had interaction with the fire service at the front line of its work. This is not a normal job. It is not a job you start at 9 a.m and from which you can go home at 5 p.m. It is a vocation. The men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade bring to that job an enormous level of commitment. That is shown very clearly in the fact that day in, day out they put their own lives at risk. That is not only a tribute to them, but to their families and their wider communities.

When I look at successive Governments, I find that often it is those public servants at the very coalface of some of the most difficult jobs who are resourced the poorest. Sometimes, that is carers and other times it is nurses or members of the Defence Forces. That the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade felt the need to ballot for industrial action is itself a failure. Everybody here knows what is required. Everybody here knows what we need to do. It would be really powerful if, coming out of this debate, we had unanimity and an acceptance that there are issues here in terms of resourcing, staff, training and support that need to be resolved and that, with collective political will, clear intent and signalling from Government, we can ensure are resolved in the best interests of the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade and the men, women and children of the city in Dublin.

Like the Minister and Deputy O'Reilly, I represent a constituency that is growing very rapidly, namely, Adamstown, which the Minister visited recently, and the significant residential development at Clonburris will commence soon. Therefore, not only do we need to meet the current staff complement, in respect of which there is a shortfall, we need to go further than that. I genuinely look forward to the Minister's response. I hope we can speak with one voice tonight and do the right thing by the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade.

We need to remind ourselves that Dublin Fire Brigade responds to fires, car crashes, accidents, storms such as we are experiencing tonight and emergencies, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It operates 12 full-time stations, inclusive of the station at the Belgard Road in Tallaght. This work is being done even though the service is almost 100 firefighters short of what is required to adequately and safely man our fire stations. It is an almost daily occurrence that vehicles are unavailable for deployment owing to insufficient firefighters to staff them. Staff are constantly battling exhaustion owing to, we are told, repeated requests to work overtime and to cover staff shortages. Simply put, our fire service is at crisis point.

This is not a new issue. Dublin Fire Brigade has been highlighting severe understaffing for years, which has worsened in the face of inaction by senior management. Tallaght fire station is the centre for responses to major incidents in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. My fear is that it does not have the personnel or the necessary equipment to respond to such emergencies. The Minister might address that in his response.

The lack of planning is evidenced elsewhere in that there are only 36 trainees to graduate this January, which is not nearly enough to fill the existing vacancies in the service. More firefighters will retire next year. If this continues, more gaps will open up and responders will be spread even more thinly. The joint Dublin fire and ambulance medical response model that currently operates and delivers fully trained medical responders is, I am told, also under threat and needs to be supported, not changed. The failure of the Government to ensure that Dublin Fire Brigade has the personnel and equipment it needs is also leaving the public vulnerable. It is essential that Dublin City Council chief executive officer, Owen Keegan, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, meet directly with the firefighters and their unions to address these funding and staffing issues. Staff shortages directly affect the emergency response times of Dublin Fire Brigade and must be immediately addressed because understaffing or delayed response times put the public at serious risk.

In my area of Tallaght, there was a fire recently in an apartment block. That incident showed the skills and ability of the ambulance and fire brigade services, but it also served as a warning in regard to resourcing and staffing of our fire services. On that evening, at the height of the response, there were eight fire brigades on the scene, which is the majority of Dublin Fire Brigade's strength. Had a second major incident occurred simultaneously, it would have stretched Dublin Fire Brigade's response capability to the brink. We know that the turntable ladder is located in the city and of the concern that raises in terms of delays, etc. A major incident on the M50 and, at the same time, a fire on the north side would put the fire services in the impossible position of having to divide resources with lives in balance. In a city of well over 1 million inhabitants, we need a fire service that has the capability to respond to more than one major incident at any one time. The current situation whereby on-call vehicles are leaving stations with less than a full complement of firefighters is putting the crews and public at risk.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Paul Donnelly, for bringing forward this motion to the Dáil. I commend the men and women of Dublin Fire Brigade on their commitment and bravery in carrying out their work. When one looks out the window today, it is notable that most people are indoors, but the fire services are the people we call on if there is any trouble or concern for us or our families. I particularly thank the members of the Dublin Fire Brigade stations in Donnybrook and Tara Street which operate across Dublin Bay South. Not only are they an emergency service and fire brigade stations, they are an integral part of the community. They are involved in events held by the community and they regularly engage in fundraising for a range of charities.

Dublin Fire Brigade provides immediate medical assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has had such a profound impact on countless lives across the city and beyond. In many cases, these firefighters put their own lives at risk while carrying out this invaluable work. It cannot be said often enough how indebted we in this city are to the men and women of Dublin Fire Brigade, but words in support and praise are not nearly enough. A round of applause will not help. The Dublin Fire Brigade is in need of urgent support. That is what this motion brought forward by Deputy Paul Donnelly intends to deliver.

We are hearing near constant reports of increased pressure owing to staff shortages. There is huge concern with regard to a lack of equipment and resources. Dublin Fire Brigade has saved countless lives in this city. In times of crisis elsewhere in this country, it has gone wherever it was needed. A first responder should never be put under this type of pressure. The men and women of Dublin Fire Brigade are the backbone of the emergency response in Dublin. They should never have to ballot for industrial action owing to staff shortages and concerns that the safety of firefighters and members of the public is being compromised.

We frequently hear reports of fire engines being off the road due to staff shortages. During last Hallowe'en, one of the busiest periods of the year for Dublin Fire Brigade, there were five engines off the road owing to staff shortages. We need to see back-to-back recruitment classes scheduled immediately and supports put in place to bring this lack of emergency cover to an end.

We need to provide the Dublin Fire Brigade with the equipment and resources needed to carry out its job to the fullest of its members' ability. Dublin's fire brigade service is its first and last line of defence and it needs to be better resourced. I call on all parties to support this motion and give the Dublin Fire Brigade the support it deserves.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Paul Donnelly as ucht an t-ábhar seo. I accept the motion in the spirit in which it is tabled. Anybody who knows me knows that during all my time in the Dáil, I have been a strong and ardent supporter of the Dublin Fire Brigade since well before I took ministerial responsibility for fire and emergency services, a responsibility I have not delegated to a Minister of State and have retained for myself.

I have friends involved in the fire service, as many of us do, and I see the work the crews do on a daily basis. I take this opportunity, as others have done, to recognise, on the day that is in it, the work of all our emergency services and front-line staff, including our fire crews all across the country and, indeed, here in Dublin. As a Dub and like many Dubliners, I am extremely proud of the invaluable fire rescue and ambulance service provided by the Dublin Fire Brigade. The work that is undertaken by the men and women of the brigade, as other speakers have recognised, can be dangerous, physically and mentally demanding and very challenging. It takes a particular kind of brave and dedicated person to take on the role. The Dublin Fire Brigade members and their colleagues in the emergency services throughout the State save lives, first and foremost, and also prevent damage to residential and commercial property. I particularly want to recognise the very difficult circumstances in which our crews have worked through the 22 months of the pandemic. It has been a very challenging time and continues to be so.

I am sure Deputy Donnelly is aware of the following points but I want to raise them for the record of the House. Under the Fire Services Act, it is the statutory function of the fire authorities to provide a fire service in a particular functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of fire brigades, assessment of fire cover and provision of fire station premises. My role in the Department, which I am very serious about, is to support the fire authorities through setting general policy and national standards, providing a central training programme, which I will turn to presently, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and, very importantly, providing capital funding, of which we recently allocated €61 million over the next five years, for equipment, appliances and priority infrastructural projects to meet the needs of a growing population.

I will now deal with some of the issues that are raised in the motion. The Covid pandemic has presented challenges to the Dublin Fire Brigade in respect of recruitment and training of new staff, which has resulted in particular staff shortages at this time. There is no question about that. However, my Department, as instructed by me, together with Dublin City Council, is actively engaging to address this issue and see how we can expedite the recruitment programme. Covid has presented a difficulty in terms of the length of time training is taking. It bears repeating, however, that, despite the pandemic, recruitment and training is ongoing in the O'Brien Institute in Marino and other training centres. As I travel around the country, I make it my business to visit fire crews and paramedics, whether in North Strand or Swords, Ballybay or Ennis. This motion is timely in that it recognises the work they do.

The most recent firefighter recruitment campaign began in September 2019, as Deputies know, and the first class of recruits began training in April 2020. It is detailed and tough training and there is a time constraint in that regard. The second recruitment class started in June 2021 and will finish in December, with 36 recruits taking up positions. Deputy Donnelly may not be aware that a third recruitment class of 45 will begin training in early 2022, with provision within the Dublin City Council budget for a fourth class of the remaining panelled recruits later in 2022. We need to make up the gap the Deputy spoke about, and that is planned for and is happening. Funding was mentioned in the context of delivering overall additional staff positions. To be clear, the issue of staff shortages is not just a funding one. Firefighters and paramedics are not just hired; there is an extensive recruitment and training process. I encourage everyone, with the permission of the Dublin Fire Brigade, to visit the training centres and see the extensive training undertaken by recruits. That training takes time and the fire brigade management must follow a process.

It should be clearly understood that there a number of issues at play at this time in respect of the Dublin Fire Brigade. Dublin City Council, as the employer, has been engaged in an extended process with firefighter representative bodies, including both Fórsa and SIPTU, at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. There has been some progress in a number of areas. I am very glad of that and I continue to watch the matter very closely. There is not a week that goes by when I am not in contact with someone in the fire brigade, its management or somebody in Dublin City Council. Some of that progress would alleviate the pressures caused by current staffing arrangements but no final agreement has yet been reached. In an attempt to break the impasse, a proposal was made on 17 November and a response is awaited. The most important thing at this point is to get all parties to re-engage with the established statutory industrial machinery in order to achieve a resolution without delay. I believe such a resolution is achievable. I will deal presently with issues relating to the Department of Health. I take this opportunity strongly to urge all parties to re-enter that process in good faith. I am confident the remaining issues are capable of being resolved.

My Department and I continue to work with the Dublin Fire Brigade on issues and to provide support. Last week, during the normal course of my duties and in advance of this motion being tabled, I met the Minister for Health in an attempt to make progress around the provision of ambulance services by the Dublin Fire Brigade on behalf of the National Ambulance Service, NAS. A long-standing issue that is nearly resolved is the use of one combined system but involving separate locations. The Duffy report provides the way for this to be resolved, as I reiterated at the meeting last week. I am of the firm belief that an equitable solution can be met. I am an unequivocal supporter of the Dublin Fire Brigade retaining its emergency services role. I want to be really clear about that. There are synergies and our crews in the NAS also do incredible work. We want to make sure the call and dispatch system is uniform.

In the short time remaining, I want to respond to the further points that were raised. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, will wrap up the debate and give the final response from the Government. We are not opposing the motion. A significant portion of it is very similar to the motion I brought forward in the previous Oireachtas, which was supported by all parties. We want to move this forward.

For the two minutes that are left to me, I will talk briefly about funding. Local authorities across the country have a yearly budget of approximately €240 million to run fire services. That budget is supplemented by my Department's fire services capital programme, which provides for investment in appliances, vehicles, equipment, upgrading of existing stations and construction of new stations. In December 2020, I announced a new fire services capital programme for the period from then until 2025, with an allocation of €61 million. Following extensive engagements with fire authorities, a number of proposals for station works appliances were received, evaluated and prioritised. Nationally, the new programme will see six new fire stations built and continued support for the further construction of an additional 12, nine fire station refurbishments and 35 new fire engines.

In Dublin specifically, as part of the 2020 fire services capital plan, Dublin Fire Brigade will receive six new class B appliances. It should be noted that these appliances are not bought off the shelf. They are constructed on order, which involves a lead time. I am pleased to say that Dublin Fire Brigade took delivery of two new class B appliances very recently and is finalising local upskilling in order that the tenders can be in service before Christmas. Two additional new appliances are due for delivery early in the new year. In addition, a new turntable ladder is due to be delivered in January and an additional turntable ladder has been sanctioned by my Department. As part of the 2020 five-year capital services plan - this is really important as we see the region expanding - we are looking at where new stations need to be located and where the capacity of existing stations needs to be increased to deal with the rise in population.

I am heavily invested in the issues relating to Dublin Fire Brigade and I want them to be resolved. The motion is useful and helpful. By engagement through the existing machinery and by placing a real focus on this matter, we can bring some of the outstanding issues to resolution. I want to be clear - and I am sure the House speaks as one on this - that we firmly support the provision of emergency services in Dublin by Dublin Fire Brigade and their colleagues in other front-line services such as the National Ambulance Service. We want to make sure that continues and that the services are funded into the future. We can bridge the recruitment gap that has been impacted by Covid. Those with a fair view from the outside looking in will understand that the pandemic has been an issue in the context of how we can bring in new recruits. We will be expediting two further recruitment classes.

As I said, I am not able to respond to the motion. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, will reply to the debate towards the end. I thank Deputies for their contributions.

I thank the Minister. We will return to Sinn Féin and Deputy Sorca Clarke.

First, I commend my colleague, Deputy Paul Donnelly, on bringing forward this motion. It is a privilege to speak on it.

The Minister mentioned a number of fire stations, namely, those in Ballybay, Ennis and Swords. I take this opportunity to remind him that the country is not a doughnut. There is a centre to it, which, I believe, is commonly referred to as the midlands. We also have fire stations.

I have been there too. Do not worry about it. I just wanted to give the Deputy a chance to list everywhere.

Long before the media brought us the visual impacts of tragedies on our screens, it was understood that firefighters are cut above. I am struck by a memory of when I was very small in school. We visited a fire station and were told that the most important thing you could do in a fire was to get out and stay out. The people of whom we are speaking here this evening actually run into burning buildings. Their job is to protect us and to rescue us. We rely on them when we are at our most vulnerable.

Dublin firefighters have given notice of their intention to ballot for industrial action over staff shortages because their safety and that of their colleagues and the members of the public they serve has been compromised by the failure to deal with issues and concerns raised. The service is currently operating below agreed safe staffing levels and there is an over-reliance on overtime to reach daily staffing levels. I know from speaking regularly with the fire service in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath that Dublin Fire Brigade is not alone. Panels cannot be filled, let alone posts. People are leaving. Some are actually leaving the country. These retained firefighters talk not only of the stressful nature of the job that they do, which they signed up to do, which they love and which they want to do, they also speak about the negative impact that it has on their families, their children, their partners and their spouses. They speak of their inability to take holidays or to give a commitment to just simply be there as part of the because of that same over-reliance on overtime. However, they do it. They do it willingly to support each other because that is the nature of the job.

Firefighters and communities deserve much better than the massaging of figures and statistics. What I hear from firefighters is that they do not feel supported. They feel that their role is not being valued and that overtime, the service and they themselves are purposely being downgraded because there is an increase in reliance on voluntary responders and a lack of appropriate training. They simply do not feel like they are being listened to or that their concerns are being addressed.

The fact that many employed in our fire services are not given the tools, the support or the proper working conditions required to perform their duties is farcical. Dublin firefighters are considering strike action to improve the safety of the service. Others may well follow suit. Our firefighters across the country, both retained and full-time, are willing to do this vital work. Is the Minister willing to properly resource them to do it?

I also thank Deputy Paul Donnelly for bringing forward this motion. Dublin Fire Brigade provides an invaluable full-time fire rescue and ambulance service for the greater Dublin area. It is a model that should be replicated throughout the country. It is clear that while the retained model that is prevalent in rural Ireland is doing its best thanks to part-time retained firefighters, the system is not suitable for the 21st century. We need an all-Ireland national fire service that is free from the budget constraints of local authorities, where it competes with roads and playgrounds for the meagre resources provided out of county councils' income. Economies of scale and the sharing of expertise will help to modernise our fire service. If the issues of recruitment and retention are not addressed, firefighters or members of the public may be seriously injured or even die. This simply cannot be allowed to occur.

Firefighters put their lives on the line every time they answer a call. In 2007, firefighters Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy from Bray and Michael Liston from Foynes, County Limerick, gave their lives in the line of duty. I would like to remember them and all those who have served in our fire service who are no longer with us. The Government must provide funding to employ additional fire service staff by offering positions to all those currently on the recruitment panel for the greater Dublin area and to plan for further expansion in the years ahead. The Government must make it easier for firefighters transfer between local authorities without loss of pay grade and pension entitlements.

The Minister heard Deputy Seán Crowe speak about Kildare. I know several firefighters who live in Kildare and who commute outside the county to full-time positions. Some of them are obliged to travel more than 100 miles each way. They would gladly work in Dublin were it not for the lack of ability to transfer, as well as the loss of pay and entitlements. They should be as successful at interview as any raw recruit. I would imagine that there are many more who live much closer to Dublin. I feel urgent action is needed before the situation gets any worse.

I welcome this motion on Dublin Fire Brigade. I also wish to commend my colleague, Deputy Paul Donnelly, on bringing it forward.

My constituency of Dublin North-West has a large and growing population. It is served by Finglas fire station, which is known as No. 5 station within Dublin Fire Brigade. I cannot but give the highest of praise to all those who serve in Finglas and in the fire services throughout Dublin. I would like to take the opportunity now to thank them for their courage and dedication serving communities in Dublin North-West and across the city. These men and women of the fire service place themselves in danger every day in order to keep us safe and to safeguard our properties. The very least we can do is make sure that they have all the resources they require to do their job and keep them safe. However, in recent months members of the fire service have increasingly raised their concerns over staff shortages, particularly during the run up to Hallowe’en, which is traditionally one of the fire service’s busiest times of the year. It is clear that the fire service is understaffed. Union representatives for the fire services have said that a recruitment drive is urgently needed to offset the critical shortage in staffing.

A number of months ago, a spokesman for the fire service union SIPTU spoke of his understanding that as many as up to four fire trucks were not in service due to a shortage in the staff numbers needed to operate them. This disturbing situation puts lives and property and risk. Measures should be put in place to ensure that this never happens again. The very least that can be done immediately would be an increase in the minimum number of firefighters. There should also be a recruitment drive that will take into account the number of vacancies left by retirement from the service. A great number of members of the service are retiring this year because many of them were obliged to delay their retirement due to Covid-19. While the fire service is under-resourced and understaffed, all our lives and the lives of the members of the staff of the service are put at risk. It is welcomed that the Government is not opposing this motion, but actions speak louder than words.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Paul Donnelly. The Deputy and I often have a little bit of banter about the northside and the southside of Dublin, which the Minister will know about from being a Dub. There are some things that unite us, such as the likes of the Dublin GAA team and the value that we place on Dublin Fire Brigade. I sat in on Leaders' Questions this morning and I heard the Taoiseach commend the front-line workers that will be called upon throughout the day and tonight during Storm Barra. One of the services that will be called first tonight will be Dublin Fire Brigade. I want to thank the members of the brigade for the service that they give us and I want to wish them well in their endeavours on behalf of all of us tonight.

We expect the fire brigade to come to our aid when things are difficult and sometimes in life-threatening situations to make things safer for us all. At the moment, Dublin Fire Brigade staff do not get the same consideration in the workplace. In fact, SIPTU has written to the chief fire officer calling for a safe system of work to be provided for all of its members. It has given a notice, although I do not think it is very likely, of intention to ballot fire fighters in two weeks’ time in respect of industrial action.

In my constituency of Dublin Mid-West, the Adamstown fire station was promised nearly 20 years ago. It has still not materialised. As the Minister indicated, there are areas of high population growth that need to be looked after, such as the places like Adamstown and the Clonburris strategic development zone.

There have been serious concerns regarding staffing levels, which my colleagues have mentioned, and there have been times when appliances and fire brigades were taken off the road. Five fire trucks were taken off the road at Hallowe'en, which is the busiest time of year for firefighters. Our fire services perform an invaluable service, saving lives and protecting our communities and we know just how important the fire brigade is to our communities. Due to the Government's failure to invest, the service is understaffed and workers feel exhausted and unsafe. Our communities deserve better. Our motion will support communities and services by ensuring a fully resourced Dublin Fire Brigade.

I welcome the Minister's support for the motion. I also welcome the initial recruitment drive that he mentioned. We are all on the same page here. We all want a fully resourced fire brigade that is able to call out where and when needed. As I have said already, actions speak louder than words so let us hope there is political will behind those words.

The Labour Party supports the motion tabled by Deputy Paul Donnelly and we congratulate him on the work he has put into it. I do not think anyone could grow up in Dublin, particularly on the northside, without the issue of Stardust looming large whenever the fire brigade or firefighters are mentioned. It is a scar across the northside. It happened 40 years ago but it is something that runs extremely deep. That is why, when we had a presentation from SIPTU and firefighters a number of weeks ago about this matter, I could almost see myself sitting in an Oireachtas committee after some disaster in the future listening to testimony about how we were completely unprepared. Having visited Kilbarrack fire station in my constituency and having listened to firefighters there saying they have no capacity to deal with any fire that takes place over the sixth storey in any apartment block, it is clear that these people are putting their lives on the line for something they believe in, which is protecting life and public safety, but they are not given the tools to do the job properly. It takes a huge amount for somebody to ballot for industrial action. It is the biggest thing a worker can ever do. I sometimes wonder if people who do not understand the trade union movement or the labour movement think balloting for industrial action is a frivolous thing that people do without thinking. It is the biggest thing a worker can ever do. There is no selfish motive behind this. It is not about pay or conditions. This is about the potential for the service to actually do its job.

We were all told to stay home today. Schoolchildren were told not to go to school. Childcare facilities and third level institutions were closed and will still be closed in many areas around the country tomorrow but our firefighter personnel are still expected to go out and effectively put their lives on the line to protect us. They put on that uniform and believe in it but the feeling from them is that the State, or the authorities in Dublin who oversee the fire brigade, do not believe in that uniform as much as they do.

I appreciate that this motion is not being opposed. That is a positive move and much of what the Minister said is to be commended. However, I was absolutely shook by the testimony given to me and others when Senator Marie Sherlock organised that briefing for us. I felt that we were potentially looking at a situation like what happened in the UK when a major fire incident took place. Lives were lost and destroyed, bodies were maimed, children's lives were torn apart and children's parents were lost. We we were told at that briefing that the capacity of Dublin Fire Brigade to deal with such a major event is being undermined by lack of personnel, staff shortages and lack of basic equipment, as I have outlined.

In my constituency, there are massive Celtic tiger constructions that have been built over the past 20 or so years. With the changing face of Dublin, the way people live now is very different to the way they lived at the time of the Stardust fire. They live in apartment complexes and the major complaint people have about apartment defects is always around fire safety. If we were to face a major fire in one of these complexes, which have question marks as regards fire safety, and if we had a catastrophe of the nature of what has happened in the UK in more recent years, we would be looking at each other at an Oireachtas committee saying that we were told and asking what we did about it. We are still about 100 people short of what is needed to properly service the fire hazard needs of this city. It is not just what these people do as regards fire but it is also to do with rescue, cardiac arrests and various other things that firefighters and people in Dublin Fire Brigade are trained to deal with.

I know from the Minister's response that he is across this issue but all of us in politics are always fearful of the day when we are sitting in a committee meeting knowing that we have been told, that it was outlined to us and that we did not do enough when told to prevent it. We are all very wise after an event. Whenever anything happens in politics, or some major catastrophe, event or occasion, everybody is wise after the event. Everybody can tell you exactly what should have happened but we are being told about this now. For Dublin Fire Brigade to ballot for industrial action is a huge move from those members. It is nothing to do with pay or conditions. It is all to do with the service in which they are proud to serve and the uniform they put on. I can only imagine how a family member of a firefighter feels every time they leave home in order to go to work because I am quite sure there is a percentage of their brain that worries about them coming back through that door again. Other jobs are just not like that. Every fire station has a dedication to somebody whose life was lost or changed as a result of the work they do. If they are telling us, unselfishly, that they need more people to do their jobs and protect the city then they absolutely must be listened to. If they are saying to people like me that they do not have any capacity to deal with a fire over the sixth storey of an apartment block, they have to be listened to. These are the front-line heroes we keep hearing about. We cannot keep congratulating people for the work they do day to day, as well as on days like today, then not listen to what they have to say and force them to go down the route of industrial action. It is a shameful day when firefighters, fire personnel and Dublin Fire Brigade have to ballot for industrial action.

For people in my constituency, every northside Dubliner, and probably every Dubliner and most people in this country, when they hear the word "Stardust" they know exactly what that means. It was 40 years ago but all of us have been shaped by that event. None of us want to be in a situation - and I am repeating the point - of saying in a number of years after an event that we were told and did not do enough. These people are telling us now, in an unselfish fashion, using the most powerful method they have by potentially withdrawing their labour and going through and industrial action process, about the deficiencies in the service. We have to do our bit. We are all collectively supporting this motion but what we need is a service with 1,040 members, as has been advocated for. That is the service we need. We should not just go up to 965, which will happen when the 45 people the Minister said are currently in training are added. These people deserve better. We are reminded today of the sacrifices they make every day, and of their families, who I am sure wonder every day if they are going to cross back over the threshold of the home when they come back from work.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling this timely and worthy motion. The past two years have forced us to have a greater appreciation of our front-line workers and their dedication and workload, but also the environment in which they work and the resources they are provided. I have said this many times in the Chamber regarding our nurses, our teachers, our other front-line services and now our Dublin Fire Brigade. It is not enough to clap our hands in admiration or for those in power to cross their fingers and hope that inadequate resources will not result in disaster.

This is an important and urgent motion. Perhaps it is fitting that it is being debated today when Storm Barra is causing havoc for the emergency services that are keeping the public safe, including the Dublin Fire Brigade despite its years-long staffing shortage, exhaustion and low morale. Last night, Dublin Fire Brigade rescued a person who had taken shelter in a tower crane after spotting the person with a thermal imaging camera. Retirement numbers are adding further strain to the staffing situation. The balance between retirements and recruitment is out of whack. Only 36 recruits have joined the Dublin Fire Brigade this year. The Minister has addressed this issue, so I will change my point. Yesterday marked the retirement of a firefighter from the service. I wish Mr. Stephen Dillon the best in his retirement.

While the Dublin Fire Brigade's staffing has been an issue for several years, Covid has exacerbated the situation. That is a phrase that we often use in the Chamber, but I will provide an example to outline the extent of the problem. On 22 November, 49 Dublin Fire Brigade staff were unavailable to work due to testing positive, being a close contact or awaiting a test result. That loss of staff was critical, particularly given that the brigade was already operating at below operational levels. It also meant that critical fire appliances were off the road due to crews being short-staffed. This was an issue even before the pandemic. In July 2019, it was revealed that 23 fire appliances were off the road over the course of seven days. Crews were short a combined 161 personnel. This has been a constant issue, with reports of 20% of appliances being out of use most weeks.

Every day, the people we trust in an emergency are going out concerned not only for their ability to work and keep people safe, but for their own safety. We are plugging the gap with overtime, but that cannot be maintained and is having a detrimental effect on the well-being and health of personnel. We must listen to the very people who manage risk and assess dangerous situations every day when they tell us that there is a problem.

I welcome the call on the Government to ensure that all firefighters and officers are fully trained to manage high-rise fires. There is not the staffing, training or equipment required to ensure that fires in tall building blocks are dealt with adequately. There has been little increase in the provision of high-reach fire appliances despite the city having grown considerably and there is a clear disconnect between the strategic housing development scheme granting numerous planning permissions for high-rise apartment blocks and the Dublin Fire Brigade's training. International best practice is needed when ladders cannot reach. Our firefighters know the techniques to best manage the fire inside. Fighting fires in high-rise buildings requires different techniques and training. It is not something that a firefighter should have to learn in the moment when dealing with an emergency. This is not something that can be learned on the job. While new height training modules are available, they are limited to new recruits and newly promoted officers. We must ensure that this essential training is rolled out to all personnel across the Dublin Fire Brigade.

When looking out at Storm Barra raging, I remembered a presentation that the Dublin Fire Brigade gave to Dublin City Council in October when a similar motion to this one was tabled. It was mentioned that, because it had rained on Halloween night, the firefighters were relieved. They thanked the heavens that it was raining because they did not have the personnel to deal with what would normally have been one of their busiest nights of the year. That firefighters have to look to the sky in order to figure out whether they can do their job is an incredible indictment of the State and something that we need to address.

I remember a presentation from the Dublin Fire Brigade on water safety training and water-based rescues while I was on Dublin City Council. Dublin Fire Brigade takes more people out of the water than it does out of burning houses now. It carries out that training either at the end of the Liffey or in Glendalough, which is fed by a spate river. When it rains as it is at the moment, though, there is too much water and the brigade cannot train. During the summer months when it does not rain enough, there is too little water and it cannot train either. We need a Dublin Fire Brigade that is suitable for 21st century rescues, be they in high-rise buildings or on water, and it needs personnel.

For all the Dublin Fire Brigade officers whom I have come into contact with, it is a vocation for them. They do the job because they believe in it. It is a sad indictment of the State that they are now considering industrial action. This is something that we can address, be it in this Chamber or across Dublin's councils, but urgency is required. There is not much in the way of argument in this Chamber because we all agree that the men and women of the Dublin Fire Brigade are incredible. They need resources. What they need from this Chamber is not just words, but urgency. I hope that the Minister can give them that this evening.

I thank the motion's proposer and the Minister.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling this good motion, which People Before Profit supports. It is coincidentally a good day for such a discussion in the sense that the hard, dangerous and vital work that is being done by people in the Dublin Fire Brigade and fire brigades across the country is clear to people who are watching the news, social media feeds and so on. How essential that work is is being underlined, and not just in terms of fighting fires.

I welcome that the Government is not opposing the motion. That is good. We want the motion to be implemented, though. I fear that the Government has decided, with some good reason, that the best way to avoid controversy on issues in the Dáil is generally to allow motions to pass.

The Deputy might not have heard my opening remarks.

Do not doubt my seriousness on this issue, please.

I do not, but this is a general point about how the Government has responded to motions. To people tracking this, it is clear how, six or nine months ago, the Government decided that it did not want pictures of it voting against stuff that people thought was eminently reasonable and it would instead allow those motions to pass. It would not vote against them but it would not necessarily implement them either. I hope that will not be the case in this instance. Not resourcing the fire brigade properly would be a difficult argument to make.

I was watching the debate and a point was made by a number of Deputies about the broad public support for the fire brigade. That point is correct and it is right that the brigade has such support. I warn the Government, though, as that broad public support will carry through into broad public support for industrial action if the firefighters feel that is necessary. It will not wane. The public will see that these people, who are putting their lives on the line to protect society day in and day out, feel it is necessary to take industrial action in order to ensure that our fire services are properly resourced and people are safe. That broad public support will continue. This should be extra pressure on the Government to follow through on the motion's acceptance.

In the remainder of my time, I will focus on a particular issue that has featured reasonably prominently in this debate, that of high-rise buildings or tall and complex buildings, as firefighters refer to them. It was reported in August by a firefighter, Mr. John Mahon, in speaking to the Dublin Inquirer that the Dublin Fire Brigade did not have the training or equipment it needed to tackle blazes in high-rise buildings. I understand from speaking to fire brigade personnel that there are two issues, those being, training and equipment, by which I mean aerial appliances. Consider the development of Dublin as a city. There is a moderately dense city centre, relatively low-density building as far as the outskirts and, at the outskirts in Tallaght, Blanchardstown, Finglas and around the M50 ring, a proliferation of reasonably high-rise developments of six, seven, eight or nine storeys. That development is accelerating. In some areas, the strategic housing development process, which is thankfully being closed, has been used to drive that. This raises a serious issue if high-rise developments are getting approved and we do not have the equipment and training necessary to ensure that those who will live there are safe.

As I understand it, there is very good training available in Dublin Fire Brigade to deal with tall and complex buildings. I also understand that aerial appliances, for example, are not the answer all by themselves, because once you go above a certain height, you are not going to get people out via an aerial appliance and you must get them out through the inside of the building. It is very dangerous and specialised work for which training is required. The point, as I understand it, is that because of the under-resourcing and understaffing of the fire brigade, people are not able to get the training as there is a need to be able to cover the service on a daily basis. Covid has had an extra impact in terms of knocking people out, and then there are not enough people left to be able to facilitate enough people to get the training that needs to be done. We have an under-trained fire service as it stands, although we have people with enormous talents, skills and the capacity to provide the training, but it is not currently happening.

The second issue is equipment. The fire at the Glashaus Hotel and apartments in Tallaght a month and a half ago was mentioned. The stories that emerged from that were truly terrifying. People were trapped on their balconies in fear of their lives waiting to be rescued. The amount of time they were trapped on the balconies was prolonged because of the lack of equipment. The balconies were on the fifth and sixth storeys, which was a level where they could be rescued via aerial appliance, and in fact were ultimately rescued by aerial appliance. The reason they had to wait for at least 20 minutes, and some say they waited longer than that, is that the aerial appliance had to be transported from Tara Street to Tallaght. One of the tenants was quoted as saying: "We kept thinking we were going to be burnt to ashes and maybe they would find our bodies hugging each other."

I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister and I got an answer saying:

Dublin Fire Brigade's fleet of aerial appliances consists of two turntable ladders based at Dublin Fire Brigade Headquarters in Tara Street, and a hydraulic platform based at Dún Laoghaire Fire Station, all of which can be deployed rapidly to anywhere in the functional area of the four local authorities.

Does the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, or the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, really think that 20 minutes is an adequate response time for someone who is trapped on a balcony with their home burning behind them and the entire building going up in flames? The Tánaiste agreed with me last week when I asked him about it, as did a firefighter to whom I spoke earlier, that the appliances need to be locally based. Not every area across the city or the country where there is high-rise development will have a specific area for aerial appliances, but they need to be based in areas whereby they can rapidly get to areas when needed. It is not the case that we only have high-rise building at Tara Street and Dún Laoghaire. Action must be taken urgently to ensure that where there are high-rise developments that the aerial appliances that are needed can get there rapidly to save people's lives. We need a commitment from the Government to have that, as well as a commitment to properly resource and staff the firefighting service so that the necessary training can be provided, but also that the appropriate service can be provided at all times.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion, which gives me an opportunity to speak on it. On a night like tonight when we have a storm, it is appropriate that we are talking about people who are on standby and waiting to help out if there is a need in the case of an emergency arising. They are probably out there taking care of emergencies at the moment. We must reflect on the fire service and what it does right across the country every day of the week.

I commend the Department, the Minister and the former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, on their support to me in delivering new fire stations across Galway East. I had the honour of officially opening the new fire station in Tuam approximately two years ago. A new site has been located for the fire station in Athenry, the Part 8 planning has been completed, and a detailed design is now being prepared. I hope that will go to tender once approval is given by the Department.

A site has also been identified for Loughrea fire station and a design team has been appointed, with the approval of the Department. It is very important to have the infrastructure right. We also have a fine premises in Gort and in Mountbellew, which are all serving the east of the county. The fire service in Galway looks after the city as well as the county. The existing fire service site is not fit for purpose. Galway County Council, in conjunction with Galway City Council and the departmental officials are identifying a site. I am sure the Department will be very supportive of the acquisition of the site to make sure that we can build a fire station that is fit for purpose for the city of Galway and the surrounding areas. We are getting there, from the point of view of infrastructure and buildings and proper state-of-the-art facilities for the firemen that serve us so well.

One of the issues that arises has been alluded to in the context of Dublin, but it is not just a Dublin issue. It is the issue of recruitment into the retained firefighters service, which is falling. What is happening is that as people retire, younger people are not coming in. There are several reasons for that. We must try to make the retained firefighter position more attractive and give more recognition for the work. The National Retained Firefighters Association, which looks after the interests of these fine men and women, has been trying to improve the resources to the fire service. Retained firefighters are on call 24-7, 365 days a year with just 28 days off within that time and while they might not be involved all the time, they are on call. That is a big sacrifice for anyone to make, but especially younger people. It is time that we looked at the pay and conditions of retained firefighters. It would not cost an arm and a leg. In future, we should have a situation where all of our fire stations are properly resourced in terms of human resources. We have a difficulty with recruitment. Some fire stations, including Gort, Athenry and Mountbellew, have a shortage of personnel. That is a worrying trend.

We talk about giving recognition to the fire service and retained firefighters, and one of the asks of the National Retained Firefighters Association is that we provide a national uniform for the service. This is something we can do that would not cost an arm and a leg but would give them an identity and a sense of purpose. No more than the Garda or the Army, they would be recognised by their uniform. That is a small ask but it is something we should do.

When I was Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works we had a lot of flooding in 2015 and 2016 and I remember the fire service carrying out Trojan work day and night to keep roads open. It worked in conjunction with Galway County Council. It is something that we take for granted because firefighters are not in the limelight. They are called out to deal with accidents and tough scenarios and they do it as a matter of course. They must be trained and given the necessary resources. Training is important because in the modern digital era we must make sure the fire service is up to speed with modern techniques and that the equipment keeps pace with developments. It is an investment, not a cost. It is an investment in our safety and in people. We must make sure that no more than with the Garda or the Army that we have a fire service that we are all proud of and that we can rely on and also have the comfort of knowing that they are happy in what they are doing.

They are happy in what they are doing, but people are not going into it because younger people are not attracted to that retained firefighter role due to the commitment that has to be made, and the reward just is not there.

I plead with the Minister and the Department to keep up the good work in terms of providing infrastructure and providing the tenders and the equipment that are needed, but also to please look at the human resource element for the fire service nationally, both in Dublin and right across the country. That is where we need to invest time, effort and recognition for what they do.

Our public services face a crisis. They face under-funding, staff shortages and general lack of resources. This has created intolerable working conditions for those who provide essential services and life-saving services. This motion deals with just one element, which is staff shortages and the consequences for Dublin Fire Brigade. I salute the firefighters on their professionalism and dedication to their job and to the citizens of this State, but that must demand respect from the powers that be, who have the responsibility to resource and support these workers.

Dublin Fire Brigade is the biggest fire service in the country, with 12 full-time and two part-time stations and with more than 900 staff. However, recent months have seen staff shortages of up to 20%, with up to three quarters of our fire engines taken out of service for periods of time, leaving parts of the city without adequate cover. If the people of the city realised this, they would be angry and shocked.

I contacted a SIPTU official, who said these types of shortages have consistently been the case. Dublin Fire Brigade and Dublin City Council management accept there is a staffing shortage issue. The official said SIPTU had called for accelerated recruitment to overtake the issue and that it would bring it to the Workplace Relations Commission to try to secure that. He also said that, unfortunately, Dublin Fire Brigade has refused to commit to the required level of recruitment and has instead tried to leverage concessions by undermining the 2012 Dublin Fire Brigade control room agreement, which provides that Dublin Fire Brigade emergency service controllers would demonstrate fitness at the recruitment stage to progress in due course to firefighter, which most of them aspire to. This is obviously the reason the firefighters feel they are forced into taking industrial action.

On one Monday in September, I received an email from SIPTU highlighting the crisis that the firefighters are looking at every day of the week. At 9 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 September 2021, the following engines were off the road due to staff depletion: D81 fire appliance, Rathfarnham; D126 aerial appliance, Dun Laoghaire; D41 fire appliance, North Strand; District Office Delta, district officer, North Strand; D31 fire appliance, Phibsborough; and D101 fire appliance, Tara Street. In addition, the following appliances were manned by one firefighter: D11 fire appliance, Donnybrook; D12 fire appliance, Donnybrook; D121 fire appliance, Dun Laoghaire; D21 fire appliance, Dolphins Barn; D22 fire appliance, Dolphins Barn; D71 fire appliance, Tallaght; and D72 fire appliance, Tallaght. The following appliances were manned by two firefighters: D51 fire appliance, Finglas, with one pump station; and D91 fire appliance, Blanchardstown, with one pump station. He went on to say that following overtime call backs and the contacting of staff on leave, the position at 10.30 p.m. for "off the road" was: D41 fire appliance, North Strand; District Office Delta, district officer, North Strand; D31 fire appliance, Phibsborough; and D101 fire appliance, Tara Street.

That is a crisis for these workers. These fire engines cannot be manned so they are not able to go out to fire incidents. However, as I said, despite recognition by Dublin City Council management that there is a staff shortage, it has refused to commit to the required level of recruitment.

In June 2018, Fianna Fáil Deputy John Lahart and former Deputy John Curran put forward a motion, and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, spoke in that debate to support the motion, which was not opposed under the then confidence and supply arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, said: “We need to make sure that a clear message goes out from the Dáil tomorrow and this evening that Dáil Éireann supports the operation of Dublin Fire Brigade, the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service and the fire-based emergency medical system.” He continued:

I spoke with the Minister, Deputy Harris, this evening and I suggested to him that after the planning of this motion I would sit down with him to work on the next steps forward. Our colleagues in Dublin Fire Brigade want to know what will happen next. A motion and debate in the Dáil and ventilation of the issues are good and well but the Fianna Fáil Party and I want to see a roadmap forward to investing in Dublin Fire Brigade. At the moment there should be 133 firefighters and paramedics and 36 officers on duty at all times maintaining front-line fire appliances. However, there were only 129 and 29 officers due to start work last night. There is a deficit in staff and appliances. We need at least another four ambulances within the service and we should be proud of the service that is there.

That was in June 2018, so the Minister has obviously been on top of this issue since then. He had direct contact with the Minister of the time and he was going to put in a plan to bring in more ambulance services and recruitment. I know that Covid hit in 2020 but that was a year and a half after this debate in the Dáil. I would certainly like to see more urgency from the Minister, although I am glad he is not opposing the motion. What I would like to see is that the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage would have a quarterly report from the Minister on recruitment levels and the position on fire appliances, in particular how many have been brought into service in the previous quarter. That type of accountability is going to be important for the future of fire services in Dublin. I ask that the Deputies on that committee would demand that quarterly report so a close eye can be kept on this and there would be transparency as to what exactly is going on in our fire services. This is particularly important around the point on the growth of high-rise apartments and to ensure Dublin Fire Brigade is given the resources and training to fight fires in high-rise buildings. How is that training going to be given to the staff who are there at the moment? As pointed out by other Deputies, these firefighters cannot be released because of the low numbers and they are already in a state of crisis, so how is that going to happen? I urge the committee to ensure that transparency from the Minister every quarter as to where we are in regard to recruitment, appliances and firefighting in high-rise apartments.

I thank all Deputies who contributed to this important motion. I am certainly conscious, as we all are this evening, particularly in light of the storm, of the incredible resource of our emergency services and fire services across the country. We thank them all for the work they are putting in. There has been extraordinary work across the country to keep people safe, to get services up and running and to keep people moving, which is critical. We appreciate all of that.

I will try to respond to some of the questions. I listened to the first half of the session with the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. Questions were raised in the early part of the session by Deputy Seán Crowe in regard to staff shortages and equipment. Specifically on that point, the Department has initiated a review of the retained fire services to address training, recruitment and retention issues and, again, to strengthen the services.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised a question around high-rise developments, although I will not go into the specific incident that he raised. Dublin Fire Brigade currently has three aerial appliances and one more is due for delivery in January, with one more to be ordered. These are available for response throughout Dublin where and when required.

Deputy Seán Canney raised the issue around the fire station in Tuam. I thank him for his comments in regard to the progress that is being made around capital investment, in particular in regard to fire stations.

The Deputy made the point that we are getting there in Galway city. He also mentioned the issue of a national uniform and a standard kit. He said that the uniform is not standard across the service and we take that point on board.

The other issues raised were taking the fire brigade for granted, training and the modern technology that is an investment and not a cost. Deputy Joan Collins raised the issue of staffing and adequate cover, specifically in Dublin. I know this is putting a focus on all of our fire services throughout the country but I will update the Deputy on the most recent firefighter recruitment campaign. It began in September 2019 and all recent fire brigade recruit training has taken place in the shadow of the pandemic, which has placed considerable additional challenges on the process. The first class of recruits from that campaign began training in April 2020 and have taken up positions across the fire brigade. A second recruit class began training in June 2021 and will finish this December with 36 recruits taking up positions. A third recruit class of 45 will begin training early in February 2022 and provision has been made within Dublin City Council's budget for a fourth and final class of recruits from the remaining panel later in 2022. On staffing in Dublin Fire Brigade, Dublin City Council as the employer has engaged in an extended process with firefighter representative bodies Fórsa and SIPTU and the WRC. The issues under consideration include: manning levels; staff numbers; the role of operational intelligence risk assessment; implementation of efficiencies in the operation of special appliances; recruitment; and the schedule of recruitment to ensure staffing level continuity. Those are just quick responses to the issues raised by Deputies since I took over this part of the debate.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and I would like to thank all of the Deputies for raising these issues. We have heard the concerns of Deputies raised this evening but it is important to put it all into context. No one can or would deny that Dublin Fire Brigade provides an invaluable fire, rescue and ambulance service for the greater Dublin area and there is no doubt that the service saves countless lives, as well as preventing damage to residential and commercial property daily. Dublin Fire Brigade, which is part of Dublin City Council, provides fire and rescue services for the four Dublin local authority areas: Dublin City Council; Fingal County Council; South Dublin County Council; and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It also provides an ambulance service in these areas for the HSE on an agency basis. Dubliners are undoubtedly proud of the men and women who provide these services to nearly 1.5 million people across an area of 356 square miles and at a time of risk to their own lives in doing so.

As we have discussed, it is true that the Covid pandemic has presented huge challenges in recruitment and training of new staff, resulting in staffing shortages in recent times. However, my Department and Dublin City Council are actively engaged in working to address the situation. I have outlined the current recruitment drive and processes that have taken place to date. As my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, has already stated, firefighters and paramedics are not just hired; there is also an extensive recruitment and training process to follow before suitable candidates are appointed and this takes time. Dublin Fire Brigade management is following this process. I would like to again emphasise that much is going on in the background. Dublin City Council, as the employer, has been engaged in an extended process with firefighter representative bodies Fórsa and SIPTU, as well as with the WRC. I am glad to say there has been some progress in a number of areas, some of which will alleviate pressures caused by current staffing arrangements. Unfortunately, no final agreement has been reached. I call for all parties to re-engage with the process as a matter of urgency and to use the industrial relations machinery that are in place. Everyone wants a positive resolution that is acceptable to all stakeholders and we want it as quickly as possible.

While local authorities, as the provider and employer of fire services and their staff, have a yearly budget of €240 million for same, this budget is supplemented by my Department’s fire services capital programme. This provides for investment in: appliances; vehicles; equipment; upgrading of existing stations; and construction of new stations. This Government’s continued support for all fire services is reflected in the most recent fire services capital programme, which will see an investment of €61 million between 2021 and 2025. Nationally we will see: six new fire stations built; continued support for the construction of a further 12 new stations already under construction; nine fire station refurbishments; and the allocation of 35 new fire engines. In previous programmes in 2015 and 2017, Dublin Fire Brigade saw the delivery of six appliances at an approximate cost of €2 million. It will continue to benefit from my Department’s capital programme with a current allocation of six new vehicles. Sanction has also been given for the purchase of a new turntable ladder at a cost of €850,000. New vehicles have been sanctioned and are being ordered, specced, built and delivered. As importantly, as officials from my Department are actively engaging with Dublin Fire Brigade management on the strategic development of fire service infrastructure going into the future, discussions include the upgrading of existing stations and new station proposals. My Department is always available to consider additional proposals as they may arise.

Training has also been raised as a point of concern by many Deputies. The issue of recruitment and training of new recruits has already been addressed by the Minister. I would like to reiterate that the national director for fire emergency management, NDFEM, in my Department provides a central training programme that supports all fire services, including Dublin Fire Brigade. The annual programme of courses for the fire services officers and firefighters supports the ability of fire authorities to deliver efficient and effective fire and rescue services. The NDFEM also supports fire service delivery through the preparation of appropriate standards and guidance on the management of a large range of fire services and operational activities, including fighting fires in high-rise buildings. A key element over the last decade has been the preparation and circulation of standard operational guidance; a suite of 47 documents developed between 2010 and 2012 by fire service personnel and issued by the NDFEM to all local authorities for consideration and adoption. The NDFEM programme complements Dublin Fire Brigade’s training programmes, which take place in its training centre, the O’Brien Institute and other venues. As high-rise firefighting has been raised by a number of Deputies, I should mention that high-rise training modules have been delivered to all new recruits and newly promoted officers within Dublin Fire Brigade. The programme is being assessed for sign-off for broader upskilling of all officers and firefighters as soon as possible.

The Department, my colleague, the Minister, and I, remain committed to an invested in and supported Dublin Fire Brigade. We will continue to work with all parties in an effort to resolve the outstanding issues and support ongoing initiatives. We cannot praise Dublin Fire Brigade and our fire services across the country enough for their collaborative efforts with other emergency services throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. As I said at the outset, we deeply appreciate the dedication, skill and courage of our fire services in today’s response to Storm Barra.

In 2005 firefighters in Bray staged a walkout from the fire station in Bray, arising from concerns regarding the condition of the retained service in Wicklow. As a county councillor at the time I spoke to them, and I was the only public representative to do so. The walkout was led by sub-officer Brian Murray. They outlined a litany of issues within the service that were impacting their ability to do their jobs. Call vetting, recruitment and retention and underinvestment in the retained service were but a few of the issues raised. Brian told me at the time that someone would die unless the issues they were highlighting were addressed. Two years later, on 26 September 2007, sub-officer Brian Murray and firefighter Mark O’Shaughnessy lost their lives in the line of duty. They died protecting their community but they died because of the systematic failures within a service that is not fit for purpose.

Here we are 14 years after Brian and Mark’s deaths and things in the retained service are as bad if not worse. During a recent conference of the chief fire officers, the retained fire service was described as not being fit for purpose and I agree. There have been instances where fire services have been unable to respond to emergencies due to a shortage of firefighters and in other instances some fire stations have been forced to close. Firefighters are on call 24-7 and 365 days of the year and many simply cannot take time off due to a shortage of personnel.

In County Clare, for example, 24 firefighters have been recruited since 2016 but 16 have already left the service and this is being replicated right across the State within the retained service. Bray fire station which serves a population of over 35,000 should be a two-pump station but for the last five years it has been reduced to a one-pump station, with Greystones providing backup. This has obvious knock-on implications for Greystones and the wider area. Necessity demands that Bray be a full-time service but because the local authority is unable to fund it, this simply has not happened. Fire services are being delivered on the basis of a local authority budget as opposed to a risk assessment.

Recently the management board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management approved a proposal for undertaking a review of the model of local authority retained service delivery. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, informed me that the objective of this review is to explore and understand the issues impacting service delivery, to undertake research and analysis, and to propose options which will underpin the continuing provision of effective and inclusive local authority fire services into the future. The model used for the retained fire service is the root cause of many of the difficulties in the service. I have long advocated for the creation of a national fire authority in line with one of the key recommendations of the Farrell Grant Sparks report of 2002 and this should also be included in the review which is being rolled out by the Department. As many would say, there are simply too many chiefs and not enough firefighters in the service. There are many issues within the fire service but the failure to address the issues of recruitment and retention is literally a matter of life and death. I do not want to see the death or injury of another firefighter or member of the public in Wicklow or anywhere else in this State due to the failure to address the serious issues within the service. If the issue of staffing levels is not addressed, the Government is endangering the welfare of firefighters and the public throughout the State. The aforementioned review must not be a whitewash either. It must look at all of the issues including the structures within the retained service. The Minister must also commit to publishing the final report once complete and to fully implementing any findings to ensure that we have a retained service that is fit for purpose and fit for the 21st century.

I thank my party colleagues and other Deputies for their support for this motion. I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the motion and acknowledge the passion he expressed for Dublin Fire Brigade. However, as fire officers have continuously said to me in the course of meetings with them in recent weeks, they want support now. They do not have very much confidence in anyone to deliver at the moment. They want to see something happen for them.

On the sum of €61 million in capital funding, I believe that is for the fire services in the entire State, including Dublin Fire Brigade and the retained fire services, but it is my understanding that the chief fire officer has said that he needs €80 million for Dublin alone. We can clearly see the disparity between what is required for a modern fire service and what is being provided. When we are throwing figures around, we must be clear and concise about the impact these sums will have.

I wish to focus on a number of issues that I did not have time to deal with earlier, including the growing population in Dublin city and county and the height and scale of buildings, which others have raised. When firefighters told me recently about the engines they were using, to say I was dumbfounded is not an exaggeration. If the people of Dublin really knew of the condition and age of the equipment being used by firefighters they would be genuinely shocked. I have been told that Dublin fire brigade has 21 engines and as has been confirmed in the House, the chief fire officer has committed to the provision of four new engines, two before Christmas and two after. A lot of the current stock is between 15 and 17 years old, with 2003, 2004 and 2005 engines that have over 200,000 km on their clocks. It is unbelievable that some of the most highly qualified and professional firefighters in the world are expected to carry out their role in such old trucks. Taxi drivers are not allowed to operate in cars that are more than ten years old and yet we expect fire officers to work with engines that are 15 or 16 years old. I have been informed that although four new engines are on the way, some of the equipment that is coming into the country is already five or six years old. We are getting the cast-offs of some other fire services. How can the Department justify not giving such a vital service the funding required so that firefighters can carry out their job safely and effectively? The Minister spoke about the amount of funding being provided but if it is not sufficient to cover what is required then it is not enough.

Every organisation needs a strategic plan that is based on the needs of the service that is being provided to the community but it is clear that there is no such signed-off, strategic plan as required under section 26 of the Fire Services Act 1981. I am concerned about the timelines for the development of the fire service, especially in terms of the growth of Dublin Fire Brigade. The chief fire officer has mentioned certain capital projects which will be delivered in eight to ten years but that is not sufficient for Dublin. The city and county is growing as we speak and has been for the last 30 years. I live in Dublin west. There is a fire station in Coolmine, around the corner from my house, which has one fire engine, one fire officer and seven staff, including two Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance paramedics as part of the team, serving a population of over 110,000 people. In the next number of years, that population will grow to 140,000. There are 50,000 people working in the industrial units in Ballycoolin and Tyrrelstown. Is that sufficient? Absolutely not. Do we need another engine in that fire station? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Adamstown has already been mentioned. It has been on the map since 2020 and still there is no fire station. The most incredible example is in North Strand. A Portakabin was delivered for the additional staff that were hired and they were told they would have a new fire station in two years. How many years ago was that? It was 13 years ago. Staff were told 13 years ago that a temporary Portakabin would be in situ for two years and then they would have a new station.

When I listen to fire officers, what I hear is complete and utter frustration and a lack of trust in what is being said to them by the Government, the chief fire officer and Dublin City Council. Everybody has given a clear outline of exactly what is required from the Government, Dublin City Council and the chief fire officer. I urge the Government and all of those with the power, authority and funding to listen to the workers. They are the people we asked to go out onto the front line today. When the rest of us were told to stay at home, we asked them to go out. During the pandemic, we are asked to work from home and they are asked to go out and put their lives at risk. They do not want applause; they want to be respected.

Question put and agreed to.
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