The decision not to deploy the fire brigade in Cashel when the water supply was interrupted during the recent cold snap was defended at the monthly meeting of the local Town Council.
Cllr. Martin Browne described it as "an absolute disgrace" that the town was refused the services of the fire brigade to fill water tanks, and because of that the elderly and people with families were left without water. The decision had been made by the officials, without talking to the members, and he said it just wasn't good enough.
Cllr. Martin Browne pointed out that "heads had rolled" in Northern Ireland because of the water shortages suffered during the freezing weather around Christmas
He knew there was a cost involved in calling out the brigade but he was sure the firemen and firewoman would have worked for nothing if they had been asked. The way they helped so many during last year's big freeze was a credit to the fire service
"It was very high-handed of the Manager, the Town Clerk and officials involved to leave people without a drop of water", he stated.
However Council Manager Sean Keating said the decision to use the fire brigade this time had been made by the County Council, not the Town Council.
There were a number of problems associated with using the fire service, one of which was the cost, which was "extremely high". There were also health and safety issues with people taking hoses up flights of stairs and clambering around attics trying to put water into tanks. It would be impossible to even try and provide such a service in all cases.
The Council had used tankers, some of which were hired, to supply water. It was also looking at the possibility of providing stand pipes with a push button system that could be used during such situations in the future.
Mr. Keating told the meeting that the Council had 19 people working on the system at the peak of the emergency. It had repaired 25 leaks and 15 repairs were carried out in Council houses throughout the town.
The call centre that was set up countywide had received 3,000 calls in the six days from Christmas Eve. During the freeze the Council produced 170% of the normal water for the town and it was still producing 130% of its normal levels.
Some of the remaining leaks were in houses while others were in smaller connections.
Mr. Keating said the practice of leaving taps running was a very bad neighbour approach that should be frowned upon, because it led to water restrictions to prevent reservoirs from running empty. He also recommended that all consumers should check their service pipes, particularly in relation to any vacant premises.
Mr. Keating thanked the consumers for their patience during what he described as "a rough period"; the members for making the officials aware of problems; and the staff, including Town Foreman John Canning, Town Clerk Marie McGivern and Town Engineer William Corby, for their tremendous response over the holiday period.
All the members expressed their gratitude to the staff, especially the outdoor staff, whom Cllr. Sean McCarthy said had worked around the clock in pretty horrific conditions in the cold and wet with water squirting on top of them. He said he understood the reasons why the fire brigade wasn't called out.
The Mayor, Cllr. Michael Browne, said the government was considering spending €5 billion to instal water meters but the money would be better spent replacing the pipes, which in Cashel's case were there since the 1950s.
He said he was surprised to see car washes operating during the big freeze and said a law should be passed stipulating that there would be an automatic ban on car washes as soon as the water supply was disrupted.
He didn't know if there would have been any benefit calling out the fire brigade. The Mayor said neighbours had helped those who didn't have water in his area and this should have happened all over the town.
Cllr. Eoghan Lawrence said it was very regrettable if the fire brigade wasn't called out because of the cost involved. Some people had no heating because of the water shortages. He also believed the emergency telephone number should have been made more widely available.
Cllr. Dan Dillon thought the fire brigade would have been summoned and said it would have been nice for all shoulders to be put to the wheel at a harrowing time. At a time when hardship was experienced by people it was a sad reflection of the times that a lack of finance would have played a part in preventing that.
Cllr. Eddie Bennett said a lot of water was leaking through stop-cocks and that was an ongoing problem.
Several people discovered that stop-cocks were frozen because they weren't laid at a sufficient depth beneath pavements, said Cllr. P.J. Quinlan.