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Irish Fire Services Overview
*Please note that the following information on the structure of the Fire Service relates only to the service in the Republic of Ireland (Eire) and that information on Northern Irelands Fire and Rescue Service is available on their website at www.nifrs.org.
The Fire Service in the Republic of Ireland
The current structure of the Fire Service in Ireland is based upon the legislation of the Fire Services Act of 1981.
The Fire Services in Ireland are managed at local authority level, with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government playing an advisory, legislative and policy-making role. The Fire Services are operated by 37 Fire Authorities , which are managed by City Councils, County Councils, Borough Councils and Town Councils around the state. These 37 Fire Authorities run a total of 30 Fire Services in the South e.g. Dublin City and County boundary has 4 Local Authority Councils 3 of which pay Dublin City Council to run the fire service of Dublin Fire Brigade.
The 3,300 approx staff of the Fire Services runs 216 Approx fire stations around the country and is made up of full-time professional fire fighters and retained part-time firefighters. Retained fire crews, who make up about two-thirds of the national total, are recruited in rural areas, and are available for emergencies at all times via a paging system.Cities and larger urban areas are serviced by full-time fire fighters, who work in shifts to provide a 24-hour on call service. Firefighters in Dublin also operate an emergency ambulance service for much of Dublin as well as having a regional control centre which takes emergency calls for fire and ambulances for most of Leinster. (one of 3 centres in Ireland)
The Fire Services in Ireland receive funding from three sources:
* The Government
Each local authority receives a fund from the Government to operate a Fire Service. This fund has replaced domestic rates. The Government also gives funding to voluntary cave and mountain rescue groups and publishes the annual fire statistics for the country. (These statistics are available free of charge from the Department of Environment and Local Government)
* Commercial Rates
Local authorities collect annual rates (charges) from commercial premises. These rates are designed to cover the cost of local authority services to businesses, including the provision of Fire Services.
Some local authorities have placed charges on certain Fire Service functions, such as a flat fee for domestic fires like chimney fires, and may seek the actual cost to them as a charge on commercial fires, forestry fires, false alarms and instances that require the use of special equipment. The fees different from county to county and you should contact the Local Authority in question for a fee breakdown some of which are on their websites.
The 1981 Fire Services Act set up after the Stardust Disco Fire In Dublin where 48 young people lost their lives is the major piece of legislation upon which the Fire Service is structured and operated. Among the provisions in the act are:
- Local Authorities are charged to set up and provide a fire service for their area ( a few like in Dublin join forces to provide one service)
- The Commanding Officer at the scene of an emergency (fire or non fire) is empowered by the Fire Services Act, 1981 to do or command his or her fire-fighters or other personnel to do whatever is necessary or appropriate to put out the fire or protect or rescue persons involved in the emergency. In the event of a fire or a suspected fire, the Commanding Officer's powers include:
- The power to enter any property where there is reason to believe a fire has broken out.
- The power to evacuate any building
- The power to demolish any building or part of a building
- The power to take a water supply from any public, private, natural or artificial source.
- Fire fighters are immune from legal action in the course of their duties within the Act's provisions.
- Offences under the Fire Services Act, 1981 and Criminal Justice Act 2006
- Under the Fire Services Act, 1981, it is an offence to:
- Knowingly give a false alarm to the Fire Services
- Interfere with or obstruct any water hydrant or other source of water supply.
- The penalty for these offences can be a fine of up to €635 or a prison sentence of up to six months or both. More serious offences, such as contravening fire safety regulations in relation to the size, design and use of buildings, the provision of adequate fire escape facilities or the maximum number of occupants allowed under the regulations may be punished with a fine of up to €12,700 or a prison sentence of up to two years or both.
- Section 185 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 makes it an offence to assault or threaten to assault fire brigade personnel during the execution of their duties. The penalty for this offence is a fine of €5,000 and 7 years in prison (or both). It is also an offence to obstruct or impede fire brigade personnel from carrying out their duties. This offence carries a fine of €2,500.
National Directorate in Fire and Emergency Management
The mandate of the National Directorate is to create an effective model of integrated leadership, development support and oversight by central government of local authorities provision of consistently effective, safe and value-for-money fire and emergency services in Ireland. The national Directorate puts in place a management structure at central level with a clear mandate and visibility to develop national policy and standards and to drive consistent achievement of quality services by local authorities, while not interfering with existing and appropriate political accountability.
The National Directorate is a consolidation of the development and support functions of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government which have evolved over the years as part of its role as the parent Government Department of the local authorities who provide fire services in Ireland.
Fire Services Directorate
Set up in 2009 to replace the Fire Services Council the mandate of the National Directorate is to create an effective model of integrated leadership, development support and oversight by central government of local authority's provision of consistently effective, safe and value-for-money fire and emergency services in Ireland.
One of the functions of the Fire Services Directorate funded directly by the Department of the Environment and Local Government, is to train Fire Services personnel. This training is carried out at local level at centres around the country. As there is no National Fire Training Centre, some senior officers are sent abroad for further training. The Fire Services Directorate also advises the Department on the educational and training needs of fire fighters.
The Fire Services Directorate is increasingly emphasising the training of fire officers who are involved in training activities in their own fire authorities. In effect, the Directorate is training the trainers.
The largest training centre in Ireland is the Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre, which also offers courses in fire safety and fire safety management to companies outside the Fire Services.
Fire Safety Certificates
Developers of every new building, with the exception of domestic buildings, are required to obtain a Fire Certificate. Although there are different certificates for different kinds of development, it is necessary for every developer to send their plans and designs to their local Fire Authority.
Developers' plans are inspected by senior Fire Services staff who ensure that adequate escape facilities are present and that the building is designed in a way that prevents and limits the spread of a fire. If they are satisfied, a certificate is then issued by the the Building Control Authority.
Under the provisions of the Fire Services Act, 1981, authorised inspectors from the Fire Services can visit and inspect any building within their jurisdiction. They may ask for any of the following details:
* The number of employees or occupants in the building
* The purpose of any room or area in the building
* The materials used in the building's construction
* Any official documents relating to the building's safety.
The inspectors can also examine the water supply and are permitted to bring any necessary equipment with them onto a site and examine or test any heating, lighting or ventilation systems and any substances used or stored within a premises.
Owners of property can be asked by a Fire Services inspector to provide drawings or plans of buildings under their ownership. The owner is legally obliged to provide a satisfactory response to the inspector. If the inspector is not happy with what he or she finds, he or she can make an application to the High Court for an order requiring the removal, alteration or making safe of any structure, service, fitting or piece of equipment or an order restricting construction work at the site or prohibiting the use of a building until the required changes have been made. If the High Court grants such an order, its terms are legally binding on the owner of the building or site. Offenders can face a fine of up to 635 euro or up to six months imprisonment and further fines of up to 635 euro calculated by the day may apply if the terms of the order are not complied with.
If a Fire Services inspector is refused entry, obstructed or impeded in his or her duties, it is considered a criminal offence that is punishable by a fine of up to 635 euro or six months imprisonment. A Fire Services inspector can apply to the District Court for a warrant if he or she is refused entry to a building or site.
The Fire Services also have a role in examining and testing dangerous substances such as petroleum to ensure compliance under the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 and Dangerous Substances Regulations, 1979 . The Dangerous Substances Act states that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may make an order defining any substance that has the potential to damage person or property as a dangerous substance. If you are in possession of such a substance, you must apply to your local authority for a Dangerous Substances licence. Those in possession of more than 60 gallons of petrol, for example, must apply for a licence for that petrol. Applicants have to submit copies of Ordnance Survey maps of the area and architects' plans of the site and any buildings on the site to their local authority. This information is necessary so that the Fire Services can ensure that dangerous substances, most commonly large amounts of petrol at petrol stations and industrial sites, are stored safely and kept at a reasonable distance from other buildings.
There are no specific commercial rates for fire services, but most local authorities charge rates annually to commercial concerns to cover the cost of local authority services to them, which includes the provision of fire services. Procedures for deciding the rates payable vary from county to county, but the general procedure is for a local authority to decide a rate annually, based on its estimate of how much its costs will be. The local authority will then charge businesses that fee, usually to be paid in a number of instalments, which will also vary depending on the size and worth of each company. This decision is made by the local authority's Commissioner for Valuation and can be appealed, usually within 28 days of the decision, to a Valuation Tribunal, which will decide if the rate should be reduced or not.
Dangerous Substances Licences
Local authorities charge a fee for licences under the Dangerous Substances Act. This fee varies depending on both the quantity and nature of the substance and on the local authority involved. A variable rate depending on the quantity of petrol, the most common dangerous substance, is charged by most local authorities
Most local Fire Services in Ireland will charge a flat rate of between 120 euro and 180 euro for attending a chimney fire or other domestic fire or emergency. If the Fire Services have to attend a fire or other emergency larger in scale than a domestic fire, such as a forestry fire or a fire at commercial premises, they will seek to recoup the entire cost of this service from the company or landowner. Generally, this cost would then be recovered by the landowner or company from their insurers.
Most local authorities will charge a fee for Fire Certificates. The amount to be included with applications is often calculated on the basis of a rate per square metre of gross floor area, subject to a minimum charge of 127 euro and a maximum charge of 12,700 euro. Some local authorities offer a special reduced rate if the site is to be used for agricultural purposes.
Fire Service inspections
Most local authorities levy charges for Fire Service inspections. These charges can vary depending on your local authority, and may also vary depending on the nature of your premises. For example, if you are the holder of a Fire Certificate for a club, public dance hall, public house or restaurant, inspection charges can vary because of the different nature of inspections for each category of premises.
Where To Apply
Application forms for Fire Safety Certificates are available from your local Fire Authority or your local fire station. Contact details for each Fire Authority and a list of fire station locations can also be found on the Department of the Environment and Local Government's web site. You will find further information and codes of practice on fire safety in the Fire Services Publications section of the Department of the Environment's website.
The number used for emergency calls across Europe -112 - has now been introduced in Ireland and replaces the traditional call number for emergency services in Ireland - 999. Dialling either number will get you through to the emergency services in Ireland. It is important to give the information slowly and answer the operators questions rather than bombarding them with information. Hang up the phone only when the operator tell you to do so.
In particluar with rural brigades it is advisable to know which of your brigades is the nearest one to you as they can be dispatched while the calltaker is still obtaining the full address.