As Minister with policy and legislative responsibility for fire safety and the provision of fire services by local authorities, my primary concern, as set out in the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, is that local authority provided fire services are meeting their statutory obligations in respect of provision of fire services and fire safety.
Fire services are provided in Ireland by local authorities in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003.
The most recent review of fire services in Ireland resulted in the publication of “Keeping Communities Safe - A Framework for Fire Safety in Ireland” (KCS) in 2013. This was the report on the outcome of a wide-ranging review of fire services in Ireland which was undertaken in 2011/2012, and was endorsed as national policy in early 2013. It concluded that local authorities were best positioned to continue to provide fire services in Ireland.
However, fire authorities do cooperate with each other as and when required and on a regular basis on a number of matters. For example, they are enabled by the Fire Services Act, 1981 and 2003 to assist each other and provide support on a ‘mutual-assistance’ basis, and this is the expected norm for fire services. The Chief Fire Officer for the area where a large scale incident is located will typically engage neighbouring services when required, on the basis of agreed pre-planned arrangements.
At national level, a National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) was created within my Department in 2009 to give central direction and leadership for the fire and emergency management services. The 2009 arrangements put in place a management structure at central government level with a clear mandate and visibility to develop national policy and to drive consistent achievement of quality fire services by local authorities. Under the system, responsibility for the day-to-day operation of fire services remains with the local authorities. However, the National Directorate’s mandate includes developing national policies and national standards, and supporting and overseeing their implementation at local level.
The NDFEM administers the Fire Services Central Training Programme supplements training arranged by fire authorities. It represents an efficient service delivery model by offering train-the-trainer courses on a regional basis, therefore ensuring consistency of approach throughout the service.
The KCS policy document sets out the overall approach, the methods and the techniques to achieve the objective of keeping communities safe from fire and, for the first time, set out national norms, standards and targets against which local authorities can benchmark their fire services.
Over the course of 2014/2015, the National Directorate’s Management Board's External Validation Group (EVG) visited every fire service in the country as part of a new external validation process arising from implementation of KCS. In April 2016, the Management Board published the first EVG Report titled “Local Delivery - National Consistency”. The report concluded that current arrangements, as outlined, are working effectively to meet the challenges involved in trying to protect communities from fire and other emergencies. A copy of this report is available on my Department's website at the following link:
Unfortunately, the current COVID situation has understandably delayed a new (second) EVG process. I now expect it to begin next year. It will focus once again on the delivery standards of our fire services. I understand that part of the review includes an assessment of how the structure of the service impacts on delivery.