I thank the Chairman and committee for the invitation and I welcome the opportunity to attend and discuss fire safety issues. I am the acting chief fire officer for Dublin Fire Brigade. I am accompanied my colleague, Ms Mary O’Brien, senior executive fire prevention officer. Dublin Fire Brigade provides the function of the fire authority for the four Dublin local authorities, namely, Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, South Dublin County Council and Fingal County Council. The brigade operates a 24-7 fire, rescue and emergency ambulance service from 12 full-time and two retained part-time stations. We also operate an emergency communications centre, an administrative headquarters, a fire prevention and enforcement section, a brigade training centre and a logistics workshop. Dublin Fire Brigade provides emergency cover to Dublin city and county, a region with a population of more than 1.35 million and covering an area of 922 square kilometres.
In 2017, Dublin Fire Brigade processed in excess of 160,000 emergency fire and ambulance 999 or 112 calls. There were 39,427 mobilisations to fire and rescue calls and 86,405 mobilisations to ambulance calls. Dublin Fire Brigade is particularly proactive with respect to safety and has achieved international accreditation and-or memoranda of understanding, MOUs, for all aspects of its service delivery, including ISO 9001, OHSAS 8001 and International Association of Emergency Dispatchers, IAED, centre of excellence. The service is guided by the range of policies and procedures issued by the national directorate for fire and emergency management, NDFEM, which sets the national policy for fire authorities. The NDFEM has in recent years provided a range of policy documents and reports to support the delivery of the fire service nationally, including the framework for emergency management known as Keeping Communities Safe and, more recently, the publication of Fire Safety in Ireland, a report of the fire safety task force and a summary of conclusions and recommendations. The functions of a fire authority are prescribed in the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003 to make provision for the prompt and efficient extinguishment of fire, to establish and maintain a fire brigade and to make provision to respond to calls. The objective of Dublin Fire Brigade is to respond and deal with fire and medical emergencies as statutorily obliged.
In addition, our objective is to promote fire safety through education and advice, help ensure fire safety standards are being adhered to in existing buildings and ensure the compliance with building regulations is achieved through good building design practice by competent professional designers. Consequently, our role is to ensure best practice in terms of fire safety in new and existing buildings. Dublin Fire Brigade is also guided by the Dangerous Substances Act 1972. The brigade liaises with the Health and Safety Authority on Seveso industrial sites and petroleum licence applications for petrol stations and bulk petroleum storage. The Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003 and building control legislation provide us with powers of inspection and enforcement. Dublin Fire Brigade inspects all types of buildings, except dwelling houses occupied as a single dwelling which are outside the scope of the Fire Services Act. Where fire safety deficiencies are encountered, Dublin Fire Brigade may provide advice on fire safety issues or, where required, utilise powers of enforcement such as a fire safety notice to prohibit the use of a building or part of a building until the deficiencies are remedied. Dublin Fire Brigade can also issue a closure notice for cases where a more immediate risk is considered and, if required, bring a case to the High Court to restrict the use of a building. Dublin Fire Brigade can also prosecute for non-compliance with fire safety standards or the aforementioned notices.
In 2017, Dublin Fire Brigade issued 14 fire safety notices, three closure notices and 12 prosecutions and two High Court orders. In 2018, we have served 20 fire safety notices. The Building Control Acts of 1990 and 2014 govern the design and construction of buildings and provide for the making of the building regulations and building control regulations and the setting up of building control authorities with powers of inspection and enforcement. The second schedule of the Building Regulations 1997 to 2017 sets out the 12 distinct Parts of the building regulations, Parts A to M, including Part B which deals with fire.
The building regulations are not prescriptive but are performance based. The DFB administers Part B of the building regulations within Dublin City Council and supports the administration of Part B in the other three Dublin counties. Each Part is accompanied with a technical guidance document, TGD, and the DFB primarily deals with TGD-B. Works carried out in accordance with TGD-B are assumed to demonstrate prima facie evidence of compliance with building regulations.
The Building Control Regulations, 1997 to 2015, set out procedures and controls that require owners, builders, and registered construction professionals to demonstrate through the statutory register of building control activity that the works or buildings concerned have been designed and constructed in compliance with building regulations. The regulations apply to the construction of new buildings and to existing buildings which undergo an extension, a material alteration or a material change of use, with some exceptions. It is a statutory requirement under the regulations that a fire safety certificate must be sought and obtained for the construction, material alteration, and material change of use or extension to a building. The DFB, working in conjunction with the building control authorities of the four Dublin councils, process approximately 1,500 fire safety certificate applications per annum. A fire safety certificate, once granted, indicates that a building, if built in accordance with the design submitted, will be in accordance with building regulations. It is the responsibility of the designer, the builder and the owner to ensure that the building is built in accordance with the fire safety certificate and the building regulations. With the advent of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, BCAR, in 2014 there is now greater oversight and accountability of the construction of building and works.
I will now refer to challenges in respect of housing standards and fire safety. The DFB has no power of inspection or enforcement in a single dwelling. We can only advise about fire safety. Tragically, most fatalities due to fire occur in a single dwelling, and, to address that, we undertake community fire safety initiatives throughout the community to give advice and create awareness of fire safety best practice, in essence, to help people keep themselves safe from fire. All other buildings used for housing, including apartments and hostels, should comply with building regulations, if new or if materially changed or extended. Additionally, the Fire Services Act places responsibility on persons in control of a building for fire safety in that building in terms of the operation and management of the building, apartment or hostel. However, it is important that persons in control of buildings are aware of their responsibilities. That is especially important in the context of apartments.
The Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 provided for the setting up of an owners management company, OMC, for each apartment complex. It Is important that a formal OMC is created for each apartment complex, complete with sufficient funds to operate. Under the Fire Services Act, with regard to apartment buildings, the OMC is considered to be the person in control of the building and, therefore, responsible for fire safely in the apartment building. Any enforcement action carried out would be directed against the OMC or persons in control of an apartment building. Unless an OMC is adequately funded, it will be impeded in its capacity to manage fire safety in the apartment building. The OMC should ensure that active systems are maintained and passive fire safety elements are kept in good repair to ensure the fire safety design strategy of the apartment building is in place.
I would like to highlight the challenges and issues we have noted through our inspection programme, and, in particular, the deficiencies identified based on legacy building defects that occurred in that decade. We have found both construction defects and management inadequacies. While we have extensive powers, as explained under the aforementioned legislation, we are mindful of the impact of our actions and cost to homeowners. Our focus is on safety, risk mitigation and improving the safety of buildings. The DFB continues to work and engage with stakeholders in that regard. We will, however, use our powers to full effect, if warranted, to minimise risk to owners and occupiers.
At the fire safety certificate application design stage, the DFB is being presented with new building techniques and complex fire safety engineering design innovations. That poses challenges for us in terms of ensuring the design is in compliance with building regulations and will be built correctly. It is vital that there be good education and handover to the owner or eventual users in terms of the fire safety strategy of the building once the building is complete to ensure it will be operated within the fire safety strategy design parameters. We also consider the effect of the design innovations on our firefighting capabilities and the health and safety and training of firefighters. That is particularly pertinent in both high rise and complex building design. Those types of buildings are designed with a myriad fire safety features, both passive and active systems, to ensure compliance with building regulations, and the safety of occupants and firefighters.
In May 2018, the report of the fire safety task force, Fire Safety in Ireland, was published by Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The report addresses the public concerns and fears that were generated on foot of the Grenfell Tower fire and makes a number of recommendations to guide fire safety in Ireland. I welcome this report and its recommendations. It highlights the "engineer, educate and enforce" approach to fire safety in Ireland. I also welcome the recommendation of a more targeted inspection and enforcement approach based on risk assessment prioritisation. I further welcome the emphasis on education of persons in control and OMCs on their responsibilities under the Fire Services Act. I recommend that advice be given to apartment owners and representative bodies on their fire safety responsibilities and the importance of an adequately funded OMC. The continued emphasis towards community fire safety and helping citizens stay safe from fire is important and should be supported. We have a high prevalence of smoke alarms in homes but more could be done to ensure they are working correctly. More targeted campaigns and programmes should be developed based on operational intelligence. The leveraging and increased use of social media platforms should also be developed.
Dublin Fire Brigade is at the coalface in ensuring that building design is in compliance with building regulations and in responding to fires in buildings. As our building regulations are performance-based, we rely on fire safety engineering and also current codes of practice and guidance to check compliance of designs. It is important that standards referenced in guidance are kept current. It is also important that compliance with building regulations is demonstrated in respect of new building techniques and designs. The DFB will continue to support the national directive for fire and emergency management and the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government in the review of new codes of practice and standards with the purpose of improving fire safety in Ireland. I recommend that the review of TGD-B be brought to a conclusion and published. In that regard, it will be important to take account of the findings in the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
DFB is committed to ensuring that Dublin is best prepared against the risk of fire. We will continue to promote fire safety best practice in all buildings and to help people stay safe in their homes.
Vice Chairman: I thank Mr. Keeley. I call Deputy Ó Broin.