Firefighters battling gorse fires on Mount Gabriel near Schull in February.

Cllr: Recruit more firefighters

Part-time firefighters in Cork county are struggling to maintain their relationships and family lives as dangerous working conditions and poor pay continue.

That’s according to Fine Gael councillor and firefighter Michael Paul Murtagh who said the calibre of individual needed for the fire service deserves a far better pay structure.

The recruitment of retained firefighters in Cork county has become a growing cause for concern in recent years with numbers dwindling in many parts of the county, a Cork County Council meeting heard this week.

The meeting also heard how these low numbers have put increased strain on existing members, evidenced in February when a small crew of 7 Schull-based firefighters were forced to work through the night to control huge gorse fires.

Only those living and working within 2 miles of their respective fire station are considered for recruitment. Unlike their full-time counterparts in the Cork City Fire Brigade, Cork county firefighters are employed on an on-call basis and generally work other jobs to supplement their income. They must be available to attend an emergency at all times.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of Cork County Council, Cllr Murtagh said the council is not paying individuals enough to attract new members to its fire service.

“The calibre of candidate required with the capacity to fulfil all these skills and requirements - you're not talking about average individuals,” he said.

Cllr Murtagh continued: “They are confined to small villages, they can't go to the beach, they can't go on holidays, they can't sustain relationships. It's not good for family life.”

Fianna Fáil’s Deirdre Kelly pointed out that having 2 jobs automatically put retained firefighters into a higher tax bracket.

She said: “I was speaking to a firefighter and he said that if he had a pay packet of about €1,000, he'd be lucky to come home with €450.”

Fellow Fianna Fáil Cllr Seamus McGrath added the mandatory retirement age has forced many firefighters to leave the service against their will.

He said: “To me, it shouldn't be about your age, it should be about your fitness level. We can't afford to lose these people.”

In a written response, Louis Duffy, Director of Services, Environment, said challenges in recruitment are being experienced all over the country. He added that a newly review, Retained Fire Services in Ireland – A Review of Recruitment and Retention and the Future Sustainability of Service Delivery, would help to ensure an effective fire service delivery model into the future.

Mr Duffy said: “The publication of this review follows extensive engagement with all relevant stakeholders, together with in-depth research and analysis of the current model for fire service delivery in Ireland and in other jurisdictions.”

A process for implementation of the recommendations in the report, which include engagement with the local government management agency and staff interest groups, has recently commenced through the Retained Fire Services National Oversight and Implementation Group under the remit of the National Directorate for Fire & Emergency Management.