Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (945)

Pat the Cope Gallagher


945. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will consider putting in place new protocols in the instances of the Air Corps being unable to supply air cover to fight wildfires such as the case which occurred recently in County Donegal; if protocols will be put in place by which air cover would be either called in from the private sector, Northern Ireland or western Scotland in the case of fires in north-western Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that further to the publication of the recent report into air cover for wild fires in County Donegal, one of the main reasons air cover cannot be guaranteed is the lack of personnel in the Air Corps at present and it is noted it will take some time to restore numbers to sufficient levels as to guarantee air cover for instances; if he will initiate clear protocols to be established between his Department, the various local authorities and fire services and-or the RAF and-or the Irish Coast Guard, if required, in order to avoid future time delays in providing air cover to fight wildfires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23427/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Despite the efforts of the fire and emergency services and local farming communities, using controlled burning at appropriate times of the year, wildland fires can unfortunately occur in certain areas of the country during very dry conditions. 

Considerable inter-agency efforts have been made to reduce the incidence of wildland fires, led by my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, whose Department monitors conditions and issues wildland fire warning notices. That Department has led an inter-agency review with a view to enhancing the mitigation of wildland/gorse fires. It is imperative that communities and relevant bodies continue to work together to seek to prevent and control wildland fires.

Local authority fire services respond to incidents of fire in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003. The officer in charge of the local authority fire brigade is empowered to request additional resources as part of the response, taking account of the situation confronted and drawing on standard approaches to firefighting and operational guidelines. 

The priority of fire services in responding to incidents of wildland fires is the protection of life in local communities and among emergency responders. An important secondary objective is working with local communities to try to protect infrastructure, family homes and other property, as well as conservation areas, where it is safe to do so.  

The response to such wildfires is supported by well established arrangements where local authority fire services may, through the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) in my Department, request the assistance of the Defence Forces. The kind of support provided to local authority fire services by the Defence Forces in wildland fire-fighting has been very effective and is greatly appreciated.

It is acknowledged that the primary function of the Air Corps helicopter fleet is not fire-fighting and there are times when aerial firefighting support may not be available or the helicopters may be deployed at other locations. In such instances, this information will be relayed to the senior fire officer at the scene who, depending on the circumstances, may decide to activate a procedure for the use of private helicopters with aerial firefighting capability, if this is available.  Irish Coast Guard helicopters provide a vital search and rescue service and would not be requested or deployed for aerial firefighting. 

It is anticipated that aerial firefighting support would only be requested from another jurisdiction in extreme circumstances where neither the Air Corps nor private helicopter capacity were available to provide assistance.  It is often the case that conditions which support the development of wildland fires will affect adjacent jurisdictions at the same time, and therefore its aerial firefighting resources may already be deployed.