The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003. My Department, primarily through the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) supports the fire authorities through setting general policy, issuing national standards and guidance on operational and other related matters, providing a central training programme and providing capital funding for equipment and priority infrastructural projects.
Fire services are provided in Ireland by local authorities in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003. There are 31 fire authorities which provide fire prevention and fire protection services for communities through 27 service delivery structures. Local authority fire services are delivered by approximately 3,300 local authority staff engaged at 218 fire stations nationwide.
Over the course of 2014/ 2015, an External Validation Group (EVG), commissioned by the Management Board of the NDFEM, visited every fire service in the country as part of a new external validation process arising from implementation of the 2013 "Keeping Communities Safe" national policy document. In April 2016, the Management Board published the first EVG Report titled “Local Delivery - National Consistency”. The Report, which sets out details of the process as well as findings is available on my Department's website at the following link:
This first EVG report was welcomed as a benchmark of local authority provision of fire services in Ireland, and reviewed a number of themes. For the first time, it reported on the matching of provision of fire services with assessed fire risk. It reviewed fire safety work and undertook an assessment of the impact of national guidance on safety, health and welfare of staff in fire services. The Report concluded that the public are served well by the locally authority provided fire service arrangements and can retain confidence in the integrity and professionalism of those with responsibility for managing and delivering fire safety and fire services in Ireland.
In May 2019, the Management Board of NDFEM considered a proposal for a second round of external validation, or EVG II. Stakeholder engagement was undertaken in preparation for a thematic review process, which was scheduled to commence in Q1 2020. However, due to Covid-19, the Board made a decision to postpone this process.
As an alternative, in May 2020, the Board mandated staff in the NDFEM to undertake a review of the impact of Covid-19 on local authority fire service resilience and response, as well as on fire safety work and to look at fire services roles in supporting Covid-related emergency management. The objective was to capture issues arising, lessons to be learned and good practice which worked during the first phase of Covid-19 response, so that essential services could continue to be maintained in case of further surges.
This review was undertaken by means of ‘virtual visits’ (i.e. by Webex link) to each of the 27 fire services and three Regional Communications Centres. This ‘virtual’ process was undertaken by an NDFEM team, working in association with Chief Fire Officers and their staff and local authority executives. These visits were undertaken between the 24th of June and the 22nd of September 2020. A composite report on themes related to the impact of Covid-19 on fire services, titled 'Response and Resilience' was compiled and presented to the NDFEM Management Board in October 2020. While this is an internal report to facilitate sharing of good practice and has not been published, a copy can be made available if required.
The position in relation to undertaking another round of External Validation will be kept under review by the NDFEM Management Board, taking account of the experience of the virtual approch in 2020 and in light of the evolving Covid-19 situation.