Trade unionist says six-figure salary of fire brigade boss should increase to stop ‘instability’ caused by chiefs repeatedly quitting early

A leading trade union figure has indicated that the six-figure salary of Northern Ireland’s top firefighter should increase.

By Adam Kula
Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 4:57 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 7:47 pm

Jim Quinn of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was speaking to the News Letter after Peter O’Reilly - the current boss - quit in mysterious circumstances.

He had only been in the post for six months, and the fire brigade has given no reason for his resignation.

Mr O’Reilly - the previous head of Manchester’s fire brigade - will remain in post for another three months, working his notice.

Pacemaker Press 22/11/21 Firefighters have worked overnight to tackle a fire at a former poultry factory in Ballymoney, County Antrim, that was declared a major incident. More than 100 firefighters have been at the blaze at the former Fleming Poultry factory on the Ballymena Road. They are expected to remain at the scene for at least another 24 hours, while the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Pic Pacemaker

His annual salary is understood to be about £128,000.

There have been a number of chief fire officers in recent years.

Chris Kerr held the post from 2012 to 2015, then Gary Thompson took the reins until 2018, followed by Michael Graham, and then Mr O’Reilly.

Mr Quinn, who sits on the FBU’s 13-person UK executive committee, told the News Letter: “There’s been a number of changes at the top level over the last number of years - that’s not good for any organisation in terms of stablility.

“Probably to be fair the salary for the chief fire officer of Northern Ireland, in comparison to the rest of the UK, isn’t particularly high, given the size of the organisation.

“And that’s probably evident in the amount of people who applied the last time round.”

The fire brigade refused to tell the News Letter how many people were interviewed for the top job during the last recruitment round (although the number of candidates was thought to be in single figures).

Mr Quinn said that Northern Ireland has about 900 full time firefighters and 900 part-time ones - making it the third biggest service in the UK after London and Scotland.

“If you’re tyring to attract people from Scotland say, or something like that, some of their assistant chiefs are earning more than our chief,” said Mr Quinn.

“So it’s a big job, but not a big salary in terms of UK-wide fire brigades.

“I think the chief in Scotland is on around £200k. London’s probably a quarter of a million.

“I’m not saying it’s a small salary - far from it. But when you’re looking at attracting people, they’re not going to move to another part of the UK for lesser money and a bigger job.”

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