The national conference of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) in Cork also heard yesterday that an area of land more than half the size of Co Louth was destroyed by fire in the first four months this year.
Many of those fires appear to have been started maliciously or deliberately, particularly beyond Feb 28 last, the date which marks the end of the period during which landowners can legally burn growing vegetation.
CFOA chairperson Seamus Murphy, who is chief fire officer with Mayo County Council, said responding to these fires meant many crews were “stretched to the limit.”
In his address to the conference, Mr Murphy warned the standard of stations and equipment would deteriorate if capital funding was reduced below a certain level.
“We understand that the Fire Service capital budget is under pressure and may be further reduced in 2014,” he said.
“Over the last 10 years or so, significant progress has been made in upgrading the standard of accommodation and equipment in the service. Current local authority funding arrangements are not capable of filling the gap created by reducing capital funding.
“It would be regrettable if the standard of stations and equipment would be permitted to deteriorate — but this will occur if capital funding is reduced below a certain minimum.
“We would call on the minister to ensure that the capital allocation is kept at a level which will prevent deterioration in the current standards.”
As for the gorse fires that have already devastated large areas of land, Mr Murphy said in one incident alone during the Easter bank holiday weekend, 2,800 hectares of land were destroyed at Ballcroy in Co Mayo, while fire service units in Munster have dealt with 491 separate forest and gorse fires during the first four months of this year.
Other speakers at the conference include Robert Maynes, Queens borough commander with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) who will today speak about the response of his department to Hurricane Sandy, and Monika Buscher of Lancaster University, who will discuss the role played by social media in mobilising information and resources for an improved disaster response.
The two-day conference concludes today.