Just 24 hours after Westmeath’s chief fire officer outlined a plan to streamline fire services in the county, councillors hit out, fearing job losses and a risk to health and safety.
At Mullingar Town Council’s May meeting, Cllr Ken Glynn said he feared at least two or three staff could be lost from Athlone and Westmeath stations as part of a Government initiative called Keeping Communities Safe.
He cited the example of the HSE and said senior jobs would likely be kept at the expense of frontline staff, but didn’t mention at the town council meeting, comments made the day before by fire officer Dave Stuart that two senior posts out of nine between Longford, Westmeath, and Athlone will definitely go under the proposals.
Mr Stuart said that while a final plan is not yet finished, when it is it will be brought before councillors for them to make a decision on the amalgamation.
He also said it was likely that any frontline staff reduction would come through natural wastage.
After the town council meeting, Cllr Glynn strenuously denied that he had been scaremongering, and said his Fianna Fáil party and others had been approached by representatives of concerned frontline staff.
“Absolutely we’re not scaremongering, because we’ve had representations collectively with those on the frontline and certainly they have deep concerns. They’re not being consulted with,” he said.
He said he was speculating about job losses in the same way that Mr Stuart had been speculating, and was making his comments on the basis of the information he’d received.
“We’re concerned enough that there could be job losses on the frontline,” he said.
He agreed with Cllr Peter Burke, who had a motion before the meeting calling for the views of all firefighters on the ground to be represented in the Keeping Communities Safe document.
He cited “huge concern” among some staff, and said the discussion document referred to at the previous day’s county council meeting had been “lacking in clarity”.
He said firefighters are concerned about call vetting, about the lack of training, and the lack of funding in place for recruitment, even though there is no recruitment embargo for firefighters.
He also expressed concern about modern buildings, many of which are built in such a way, he said, that a fire can take off quickly, leaving less time for firefighters to get to a scene and to carry out their job.
Supporting the motion, Cllr Glynn also said there should be more training for fire service staff to get involved in other areas of supporting the public, such as giving medical assistance.
A finalised version of the proposed document is expected to come before councillors later this summer.