Lack of fire authority ‘puts lives at risk’

FIRE officers have again claimed that the lack of a national fire authority is putting lives at risk.

The setting up of a Fire and Civil Protection Authority was recommended 18 months ago in a major review of the fire service, but no progress has been made since.

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) said it was extremely concerned about the delay. “Having regard to the strident nature of the weaknesses identified by the review of the fire service, I’m concerned that action hasn’t been taken by now. But I am encouraged by the interest Minister Martin Cullen has taken in the fire service,” chairman Tony Gleeson said.

Although fire deaths dropped by 16% to 52 last year, fire officers believe more lives could be saved if the service was reorganised. Mr Gleeson said the 37 fire services were operating independently without any guidance towards best practices. “If we have this national authority, it will set down standards. Rather than fire fighters being just extinguishers of fire, they would be out there in the community targeting people who are at risk from fire. In many cases, it’s elderly people living on their own and maybe it’s a question of knocking on the door and seeing if they’ve a smoke alarm in the house. We’ll never really prevent fire breaking out, but we can prevent some of the dire consequences.”

The fire safety review by consultants Farrell Grant Sparks said a fundamental overhaul was necessary because Ireland was still lagging behind internationally in the number of fire deaths in homes and fire spending per person. It identified a new Fire and Civil Protection Authority as the key to modernising the fire services. It would oversee the 37 local authority fire services and take over some functions from the Department of Environment, the National Safety Council and the Fire Services Council, which provides training. The then Environment Minister, Noel Dempsey, accepted the report and the need for the new authority, which would cost about 3.8 million to run each year.

Environment Minister Martin Cullen is still looking at the recommendations of the FGS report.

“No final decision has yet been made, but we are hoping to make an announcement as soon as possible,” a department spokesman said.

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