Fire Callout Charges Burn a Hole in People’s Pockets
Entry type: Single project
Publishing organisation: The Irish Examiner / irishexaminer.com
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-06-06
Authors: Michael McHale
I am a media and communications professional with extensive experience in producing content for print, web and social media platforms.
As a writer I have experience in delivering concise, clear and engaging copy in a range of styles and for many different purposes – from news reports and breaking stories to web and social media updates and major organisational speeches.
After more than 10 years in media and communications, I studied data journalism in 2021-22 and I’m excited by the opportunities it has given me to dig deeper into complex subjects and inform the public.
This is a two-part, 5,000 word investigation of how local authorities charge the public for use of their fire services in non-fatal incidents in the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the UK and many other countries, emergency fire assistance comes at no cost to the public, but in Ireland our councils use such fees as a revenue-raising measure – even though the money they raise is a small fraction of the overall cost of the fire service. I sourced data from Ireland’s local authorities and created online data maps that show the reader the overall picture: https://bit.ly/3cHSJ73 and https://bit.ly/3cNsgVL.
The project exposed the hige variance in how much an emergency fire service can cost a person in Ireland, just because of where they live in the country. The in-depth investigation showed the realities of the costs for the public clearly for the first time, and the use of data maps clearly shows the scale of the variance across the country.
The data sourcing work involved scraping initial data from websites as well as sourcing information through emails with the local authorities where the data was not available online.
To ensure like-for-like comparisons, calculations for specific fire scenarios were carried out using Microsoft Excel calculations and formulae.
Through downloading and adjusting a json map of Ireland provided by Ordnance Survey Ireland and uploading this to datawrapper, I was able to create original maps charting the variance in fire charges across the country.
Context about the project:
Data came from several sources – both found online, through email and by picking up the phone and several Freedom of Information requests. The work required perseverance and showed that different authorities can have very different approaches to providing open data to the public.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
The importance of perserance in sourcing data and using all the practical and legislative tools available to do this.
Also, how free online tools like Datawrapper and Flourish can enhance a story and more clearly convey important information. Data journalism is relatively new and un-used in Ireland, and I hope projects like this can encourage more innovative storytelling techniques among Irish media outlets.