CORK County Council is having difficulty recruiting firefighters and the numbers of trained staff are currently falling.
An upturn in the economy has led to a downturn in the number of retained fire fighters being employed, a meeting heard recently.
Although three new firefighters began their training on June 19th, the Council's director of environment and emergency services, Louis Duffy, confirmed that, while the economy is âpicking up,' the number of firefighters in the county is dropping off.
Mr Duffy made his remarks at a recent meeting of the Western Committee of Cork County in Clonakilty, but he said the improving economy wasn't the only difficulty.
In the past, he said people had more flexibility in their jobs but now they are working in âa more controlled environment.'
He said the fire at Gougane Barra in April was an indication of just how long and arduous firefighting can be and he warned that an accidently-discarded bottle could be enough to start a fire. Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) paid tribute to the firefighters working in the western division, saying: âI understand that the Council is finding it difficult to recruit and retain firefighters. It is my belief that they are not rewarded enough.Â
âIn a rural area,' he added, âfirefighting is considered a vocation.'Â
The Southern Star contacted a number of West Cork firefighters and they confirmed that there is yet another reason that numbers are dwindling.
One firefighter said: âSome people find it difficult to be on call all the time, as well as being on call every second weekend and having to live within a mile-radius of the fire station.
âFirefighters also have to train several nights in the month, as well as attend regular training courses, so you'd want to be very committed to it.
âYou do get used to it,' he added, âbut some people find it hard to stay put.'
Another firefighter said: âIt is proving very difficult to get crew. There are permanent vacancies in some stations. People are slow to join because the job ties you down.
âEmployers are also getting less flexible.Â Some are outstanding and encourage their staff to join the fire brigade and they are to be commended.
Â âSome stations are definitely under strain,' said the firefighter who claimed that stations normally have a crew of 10, but some are now running at a crew of seven â down 30%.
âThis puts the other lads under severe pressure because a minimum crew requirement is five and the normal crew of 10, plus one fire officer, is used to man two or three fire tenders.'
He said it is not that the terms and conditions have changed so much: âWe all took a cutback along with other members of the public service, and we are looking forward to a bit of restoration, but the fact remains that the average retained firefighter is earning â¬8,000 a year, plus the hourly ray rate for call-outs.'
He said: âIt is essentially a part-time job, but you are on call 24/7 and you are tied to your town and your station by an invisible string.'