How do we “Recruit and Retain” our Fire and Rescue Service Staff?

The Retained Fire Services of Ireland provide a vital lifesaving service around the country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. Firefighters here are highly trained to deal with Fire, RTC’s (Road/Motorway Incidents), Trauma based medical emergencies, Hazchem incidents, Water Rescue etc. on a daily basis. Although some Fire Stations may not be as busy as others, it is vitally important to have the standby crews fully staffed and available at a moment’s notice. Whether your local station has 50 calls a year or 500 calls a year, it still takes the same amount of crew/staff to safely deal with an incident.

Example: 5/6 Firefighter crew turn out to a 2 vehicle car crash (RTC) at 11pm on a Saturday night and are the first on scene. Two x Firefighters go either end of the incident to close the road and make the scene safe, turning traffic etc. The driver puts up the mast light and makes the scene safe. The SO is all that is left at the vehicles, there are 5 causalities badly hurt in 2 different vehicles and the next station is 20 minutes away? 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 = Nobody is left to do the job! = Lives lost!

Excerpt from 1999 Agreement regarding definition of one and two pump stations

Let us run a small case study on one station, we have learnt a lot about in the past number of years, Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Bray Fire Station (Image – Fire-Ireland.com)

Bray is a 2 pump station based at Boghall Road, Ballymorris, Co. Wicklow. As outlined, in the now 20-year-old 1999 agreement, 2 pump stations are defined as those with more than 100 calls per annum, and should have a recommended staffing level of 15 Firefighters.

In recent years Bray has seen recruits hired and within a short period they are leaving the service. What we have learned from Firefighters in Bray is that there are a number of factors which contribute to this. This is not only unique to Bray, but to that of country wide stations also.

 Across the island of Ireland, particularly in higher populated, overpriced rental areas, the problem of “Recruitment and Retention” is spreading fast.

Rent:

On the 15th of February 2018 there were 13 rental properties as per www.daft.ie for people to rent around Bray. Times were based on average times throughout the day at 12pm, 4pm and 6pm using Google maps calculations.

We cannot account for traffic, accidents, roadworks etc but this will give you an idea of the time it takes to get to the stations etc:

Area Size Cost Distance Time
La Valee 2 Bed €1600pm 3.8km 8 mins
Meath Road 1 Bed €1300pm 3.3km 10 mins
La Valee 1 Bed €1030pm 3.8km 8 mins
Duncairn Terrace 1 Bed €1100pm 2.8km 10.5 mins
Duncairn Terrace 1 Bed €1150pm 2.8km 10.5 mins
Sydenham Mews 1 Bed €1100pm 2.8km 8 mins
Sidbury Court 1 Bed €1100pm 3.1km 10 mins
Upper Dargle Rd 1 Bed €1100pm 4.5km 9 mins
Upper Dargle Rd 2 Bed €1500pm 4.5km 9 mins
Ardmore Park 5 Bed €2300pm 1.7km 6 mins
Sidmonton Place 5 Bed €3500pm 2.8km 8.5 mins
Giltspur Lane 1 Bed €1000pm 4.1km 12 mins
Beech Road Studio €1300pm 6.5km 12 mins

Let’s start with the times.

  • 6 minutes from the station is the quickest a firefighter can get to the station.
  • Ardmore Park is also the closest property. However this is a 5 bed house and costing €2300 per month it is not affordable for an average family of 3 or 4.
  • The cheapest is a 1 Bed apartment at €1000, but too long to the station at 12 minutes travel time.
  • There are only two, 2 bed properties and are both over €1500 per month.

So on this day it seems that no where would be available to rent should a firefighter be offered a position in this station. If we cannot rent in this town, we are down to limited numbers of crew until somewhere closer/ more affordable/ family applicable comes up.

What happens with limited numbers?

Staying with the case study of Bray, we know and remember 2 members of the service lost their lives back in September 2007. One of the issues at the time was the fact that SS/O Brian Murray and FF Mark O’Shaughnessy were part of a 5-person crew, who were called in to carry out their duties as normal. The 2 men were committed to the building when things unfortunately took a turn for the worst. Yes, the fire service does have procedures in place for such occurrences, and yes, we are trained to deal with entrapment and the procedures that go along with this. We are also trained on how to aid our colleagues from the outside should such a incident occur. But with a 5-person crew, do we have enough manpower to carry out these actions?

As firefighters, we are restricted geographically to be within a certain distance of the station. We are on call 24/7, ensuring that the timely turnout of appliances is adhered to as per public service agreements.

With the lack of crew there is very little time off (SOCIAL AND FAMILY TIME/ 1999 Agreement). There are so many areas of a Firefighters life affected by this, e.g. quality of work life balance, social events, Christenings, Weddings and sometimes close family funerals.

Hopefully we are getting some of the points across at this stage about why it is extremely important for the Government, Community Leaders and Local Authorities to try and aid in the retention of crew and crew numbers.

Up until now Retained Firefighters have been expected to be on call 168 hours per week for 48 weeks of the year. In-house arrangements mean that at certain times, a firefighter will be able to avail of free time. However this rests on the number of crew that are in your station.

A minimum of 5 crew is needed in order for the main appliance (Alpha 1) to respond to an incident. When you have 5 crew left in a station, there is no time off… for anyone.

If you have 6 crew, they may be able to respond with a tanker, platform or emergency tender providing there are enough drivers, officer etc. However, 1 may be taking entitled time off with their family so we are back to 5, and the scenarios continue on from here.

Rent Allowance:

Above we spoke briefly about the cost of living being extremely high in some parts of the country. We also understand that there is Rent Allowance available in certain full-time brigades which offer compensation of approx. €4,500 per year towards your rent. (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/rent-allowance-rises-for-prison-fire-officers-to-cost-6-5m-a-year-1.3142158)

However being full time it also means that you are not restricted to your townland and you can live wherever you desire with the reward of Rent allowance.

This could be one small part in fixing the Recruitment/Retention problem, i.e. if retained personnel, who are restricted to where they MUST live, were offered the same rental allowance that our full-time colleagues are availing of, would this help?

Wages:

Wages for retained personnel are based upon the amount of calls your station receives.  You also get a retainer for your time spent with a pager on your hip, starting at €7,895 for 2 years.So as per your contract of 24/7, your hourly rate is .98c, working out at a weekly rate of €164.64 to be restricted in your ways.Your 30-day month then works out at €705.60 (before Tax). This is also before any calls or drill rates are included.

In a station with less than 50 calls a year is it really worth restricting yourself to the demands of the Fire Service?

Why should someone join the Fire Service?

With the recent European ruling back in February 2018 whereby a retained firefighter is deemed to be breaking the working time act of 48 hours per week by being on call 24/7, is the Firefighter right to be putting themselves in a position that their employer is breaking the European Law?

New recruits are still being hired under the current arrangements with their Local Authority knowing that they are now breaking European law.

Should you join the fire service? Yes, it is a fantastic job. the emotional rewards outweigh the financial rewards; however, emotions do not pay the bills. When a member of the fire service is able to regain life from someone who has gone into cardiac arrest, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world knowing that because of what you have done, this person is able to go home to their families and enjoy a number of birthdays, Christmas’ or family events for years to come.

When we are able to extricate a person from an RTC and for them to be able to tell the tale, it’s nice to know that your skills and expertise were what was needed in order for the task to be successful. If you are able to ensure that a home is not fully destroyed by fire and that possibly you have rescued a family from devastating consequences, surely this is why you would want to join the service?

Your skills in water rescue could be the determining factor whether someone drowns or not, and by you being the one understanding how the water works, you are able to aid that person’s life.

These are some of the reasons why people join the fire service. However, at present, you must understand that you will not be able to live A NORMAL LIFE yourself with the demands placed upon you BY THE SERVICE on a daily basis.

So, what is the answer? Do we the NRFA have the answer?

No we do not have all the answers, however we do have many suggestions.

By communicating with each other, and our colleagues in other countries, we understand that by looking at other working models and listening to suggestions from Firefighters across the country (like the rent allowance example) there are many ways of making our outdated service a new and improved modern Fire and Rescue Service that benefits not just the Firefighters but the Community it serves.

It is not up to us to change how the current system operates, but it is up to us, the Retained Firefighters of Ireland, to take part. We do this by sticking together during tough times in anticipation that the people above us, will make vital changes that will ensure that we all stand committed and dedicated to the fire services of this country and that we can have a better life in order to preserve the lives .

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