The Fire Services in Ireland are managed at local authority level, with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government playing an advisory, legislative and policy-making role. The 30 fire services are operated by fire authorities, which are managed by local authorities around the State. The staff of the fire services runs 220 fire stations around the country and is made up of full-time professional fire fighters and retained part-time staff. Retained staff, who make up about two-thirds of the national total, are recruited in rural areas, and are available for emergencies at all times. Cities and larger urban areas are serviced by full-time fire fighters, who work in shifts to provide a 24-hour on call service.
The Fire Services in Ireland receive funding from 3 sources:
- The Government
Each local authority receives a fund from the Government to operate a fire service. This fund has replaced domestic rates. The Government also gives funding to voluntary cave and mountain rescue groups and publishes the annual fire statistics for the country.
- Commercial rates
Local authorities collect annual rates (charges) from commercial premises. These rates are designed to cover the cost of local authority services to businesses, including the provision of fire services.
Local authorities are permitted under the Fire Services Acts to charge for fire services and the majority of local authorities impose charges. For example, some local authorities charge a flat fee for domestic fires like chimney fires, and may seek the actual cost to them of commercial fires, forestry fires, false alarms and instances that require the use of special equipment. However, there is not a uniform set of fire services charged for or a uniform set of charge rates.
Fire authorities also charge for fire service inspections. These charges can vary between local authorities and can also vary with the nature of the premises being inspected.
The Department’s National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management has been assigned the Department’s role in the promotion of fire safety and fire prevention on a national level. It works closely with fire authorities around the country to achieve this aim and also co-operates with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. The main focus of promotional activities centres on the National Fire Safety Week, which takes place in early October.
Training is provided at national and at local level at centres around the country. One of the functions of the National Directorate is to support the training of fire services personnel. It operates an annual training programme.
The largest training centre in Ireland is the Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre, which offers courses in fire safety and fire safety management to companies outside the fire services.
Fire service powers at the scene of a fire
The Commanding Officer at the scene of an emergency is empowered by the Fire Services Act 1981 (as amended by Part 3 of the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003) to do or command his/her fire-fighters or other personnel to do whatever is necessary or appropriate to put out the fire or protect or rescue persons involved in the emergency. In the event of a fire or a suspected fire, the Commanding Officer's powers include:
- The power to enter any property where there is reason to believe a fire has broken out
- The power to evacuate any building
- The power to demolish any building or part of a building
- The power to take a water supply from any public, private, natural or artificial source.
Fire fighters are immune from legal action in the course of their duties within the Act's provisions.
Offences under the Fire Services Acts and Criminal Justice Act 2006
Under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, it is an offence to:
- Knowingly give a false alarm to the fire services
- Interfere with or obstruct any water hydrant or other source of water supply
The penalty for these offences can be a fine of up to €3,000 or a prison sentence of up to 6 months or both.
More serious offences, such as contravening fire safety regulations in relation to
- The size, design and use of buildings
- The provision of adequate fire escape facilities
- The maximum number of occupants allowed under the regulations
may be punished on conviction on indictment with a fine of up to €130,000 or a prison sentence of up to 2 years or both.
Section 185 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 makes it an offence to assault or threaten to assault fire brigade personnel during the execution of their duties. The penalty for this offence is a fine of up to €5,000 or 7 years in prison (or both). It is also an offence to obstruct or impede fire brigade personnel from carrying out their duties. This offence carries a fine of €2,500 and/or 6 months in prison.
Fire Safety Certificates
The Building Control Regulations 1997 to 2013 provide, among other things, for a system of Fire Safety Certificates to show that building designs comply with fire safety requirements. Developers of every new building, with the exception of domestic buildings, are required to obtain a Fire Safety Certificate. Although there are different certificates for different kinds of development, it is necessary for every developer to send their plans and designs to their local fire authority.
Developers' plans are inspected by senior fire services staff who ensure that adequate escape facilities are present and that the building is designed in a way that prevents and limits the spread of a fire. If they are satisfied, a certificate is then issued by the building control authority.
Under the provisions of the Fire Services Acts authorised inspectors from the fire services can visit and inspect any building within their jurisdiction. They may ask for any of the following details:
- The number of employees or occupants in the building
- The purpose of any room or area in the building
- The materials used in the building's construction
- Any official documents relating to the building's safety.
The inspectors can also examine the water supply and are permitted to bring any necessary equipment with them onto a site and examine or test any heating, lighting or ventilation systems and any substances used or stored within a premises.
Owners of property can be asked by a fire services inspector to provide drawings or plans of buildings under their ownership. The owner is legally obliged to provide a satisfactory response to the inspector. If the inspector is not happy with what he or she finds, he/she can make an application to the High Court for an order requiring the removal, alteration or making safe of any structure, service, fitting or piece of equipment or an order restricting construction work at the site or prohibiting the use of a building until the required changes have been made. If the High Court grants such an order, its terms are legally binding on the owner of the building or site. Offenders can face a fine of up to €3,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment.
If a fire services inspector is refused entry, obstructed or impeded in his or her duties, it is considered a criminal offence that is punishable by a fine of up to €3,000 and/or six months imprisonment. A fire services inspector can apply to the District Court for a warrant if he/she is refused entry to a building or site.
Licensing of petrol storage
The fire services also have a role in ensuring compliance with the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 and Dangerous Substances (Retail and Private Petroleum Stores) Regulations 1979 (SI 311 of 1979). For example, those in possession of more than 273 litres of petrol must apply for a licence for the storage of petrol. Applicants have to submit copies of Ordnance Survey maps of the area and architects' plans of the site and any buildings on the site to their local authority. This information is necessary so that the fire services can ensure that dangerous substances, most commonly large amounts of petrol at petrol stations and industrial sites, are stored safely and kept at a reasonable distance from other buildings. There is more information on the Health and Safety Authority’s website.
In February 2013, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government published a major policy document for the fire services entitled Keeping Communities Safe - a framework for fire safety in Ireland (pdf). It covers a number of issues including reform of service delivery structures and the roles of the fire services. The number of fire services is to be reduced from the current 30 fire services to 21, based on developing and extending the “shared services” approach already used by a number of fire authorities.
How to apply
The number used for emergency calls across Europe -112 - has now been introduced in Ireland and replaces the traditional call number for emergency services in Ireland - 999. Dialling either number will get you through to the emergency services in Ireland.
Where to apply
Application forms for Fire Safety Certificates are available from your local fire authority or your local fire station. Contact details for each fire authority can be found on the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government's web site. You will also find further information and codes of practice on fire safety on the Department's website.
If your company is interested in fire safety training, contact your local authority or contact the Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre at: