That Dáil Éireann:
recognises the key role played by members of the Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) as frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic;
— 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;
— 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.