BY DIONNE MEEHAN
A LETTERKENNY fireman has warned there will be no fire service in the future if conditions do not improve.
This comes after retained firefighters all around the country took to the picket line this week over a dispute around pay, conditions and a decent work/life balance.
The strike began on Tuesday when the first five fire stations in Donegal closed their doors to begin their industrial action outside the Donegal fire service headquarters in Letterkenny.
The five stations that took action on Tuesday included Letterkenny, Killybegs, Buncrana, Donegal Town and Dungloe.
On Wednesday stations in Milford, Ballyshannon, Glean Cholm Cille, Gaoth Dobhair and Cardonagh closed their doors and today fire fighters from Stranorlar, Bundoran, Glenties, Falcarragh and Moville will travel to Letterkenny to represent themselves on the picket line.
Each day these stations will continue to strike on a rolling basis until next Tuesday when the number of stations striking will increase to 10 a day.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Letterkenny fire fighter, Stephen Kelly said the purpose of the strike is to bring attention to the fact that there is a crisis in the service and the crisis is based around retention and recruitment.
“What that means is we are struggling to recruit into the service and because we are struggling it is putting pressure on the firemen who are here doing the job.
“What we need is people coming in to relieve the pressure on the staff that’s already here.
“To be expected to be on call 24/7 around the clock all year round without structured time off is not acceptable anymore.
“Every station is down personnel all over the country and the county also.
“We currently have a station in Falcarragh that have a three man crew.
“It is that bad.
“What we are asking for is change and to get change we need retention and further recruitment.
“In order to get the recruitment and retention we need infrastructure and we need resources in the service,” he said.
Stephen said this strike isn’t about money, it is about a work life balance.
“Every man on strike doesn’t want to be here, they want to be serving the communities in the local fire stations but they are forced to be here because the government have put us in this position.
“At the headquarters in Letterkenny we have two fire engines, we have four special appliances and we operate with 15 of a crew.
“Currently we are short two men and have three men off sick so there is incredible pressure on the Letterkenny crew.
“When it comes to time off, we don’t have structured time off. We have to book time off and work it out amongst ourselves as in who is off and when they’re off.
“That affects families and our children when we can’t get the time off to go to football games, to go to birthday parties, whatever it may be and that puts a massive pressure on the firefighter in the home.
“You are facing massive pressures in the job when you go out to an incident but then you are facing pressures in your family life because you are trying to balance everything and it is a hard job to do that,” he said.
Stephen and fire fighters around the country are hoping the government will go into meaningful talks to secure a fire service for the future following the industrial action.
“This isn’t about the fireman. “This is about the communities and if we don’t take the stand now there won’t be a fire service to respond to the incidents in communities and this is why we are here.
“We need to take a stand and send a message that the service is broke, it needs fixed and the fire service is on its knees.
“The community deserves a fire service that works the way it should and the men who are operating it at the minute don’t deserve to be put under the pressures that they are currently being put under,” he said.