A WEST Limerick woman who was hit with a bill of over €1,500 for a call to the fire service that she did not even make has accused fire fighters of engaging in “a ploy” to justify their wages.
A civil action has been brought by Limerick County Council against Sharon O’Keeffe, of Park, Ballyhahill over the non-payment of a bill for the attendance of two units from Foynes fire station at a fire at a derelict bungalow in September 2010.
The bungalow, which was in Ms O’Keeffe’s name, was one of three in the Ballyhahill area that had been destroyed in suspected arson attacks in the area on the same night.
Speaking in court in Newcastle West this Tuesday, Ms O’Keeffe said that she “can’t afford” to pay the bill, and questioned why two fire engines, ten fire fighters and almost 3,000 litres of water were required to quench a fire which “had almost completely burned out” before the fire service arrived.
“If this had happened in Limerick city it would have been dealt with more promptly by the full time fire service”, Ms O’Keeffe said, adding that she felt that this was “a ploy” by part-time fire fighters to justify their wages.
The court heard that the on the night of September 28, 2010 two units from Foynes fire station attended the scene of a fire at a cottage in the Ballyhahill area, and spent two-and-a-half hours there before leaving.
A subsequent bill of €1,350 was issued to Ms O’Keeffe, and this was followed by a reminder letter when the initial invoice went unpaid. Including costs of €151.66, the total bill outstanding against Ms O’Keeffe is just over €1,500.
Ms O’Keeffe said that on the night in question she received a call from her neighbour Brendan Shine, who is now deceased, telling her that the cottage was “completely up in flames”.
Ms O’Keeffe said that she and her father went to the cottage and found it had been almost entirely destroyed by the fire.
She said that as there were no adjacent houses and no power lines running to the cottage, there was “no risk” of the fire spreading and did not call the fire service.
However 45 minutes later, she said that she received another call from Mr Shine telling her that two fire engines had passed on the way up to the cottage.
She said that she returned to the house, where the fire service were working, and spoke to a detective attached to Askeaton gardai who informed her that theirs was “the third house that had been set alight that night”.
Ms O’Keeffe said that when she left the house the first time, the fire “had nearly burned itself out”.
As such, she said that she could not understand how the fire later required “2,800 litres of water and a refill” by the fire service.
“The fire had almost completely burned out by the time me and my father left... It had been burning for over an hour”.
She said that she did not call the fire service, and that the house was uninsured as it was derelict.
Ms O’Keeffe said that in the past year, things have been “extremely difficult” for her and her family, and that she “can’t afford” a suggested €75-per-month payment schedule.
Solicitor Will Leahy, acting for the county council, said that he would have “no difficulty” with a stay being granted on any order against Ms O’Keeffe, in order to give her time to pay the bill.
Judge Mary Larkin issued a decree for €1,350 plus costs against Ms O’Keeffe.