Questions have been raised over why a Co Down fire station that was destroyed in an overnight blaze did not have a smoke alarm or sprinkler system fitted.
Severe damage was caused during the blaze at Rathfriland Fire Station which left the building almost entirely gutted and two fire appliances destroyed.
Due to health and safety reasons firefighters were forced to stand helplessly by as their station was engulfed in flames in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service yesterday admitted that no smoke alarm was fitted at the station.
A Fire Service spokeswoman said the primary purpose of a smoke alarm is to alert the occupants at the early stage of fire and give people early warning to plan their escape.
She added: “Smoke alarms do not prevent fires. Rathfriland Fire Station is a retained fire station with no sleeping accommodation. There would therefore be no-one in the building overnight to be alerted to the fire by a smoke alarm.
“NIFRS does not fit smoke alarms inside fire appliance bays as they are unsuitable due to the fumes of fire appliances that would activate the smoke alarm. All NIFRS fire stations and buildings are subject to workplace risk assessments.
“NIFRS would like to take this opportunity to remind the public of the importance of having a smoke alarm fitted in their homes to provide early warning of a fire giving people time to escape.”
South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells said he thought it was “absolutely ridiculous” that the station had not been fitted with an alarm or sprinkler system.
“The Fire Service is always telling people time and time again about the importance of having a smoke alarm fitted and yet in Rathfriland they themselves didn’t have one — I think that is unbelievable,” he said.
Firefighters were alerted to the blaze at around 4am yesterday.
Emergency crews from Newry were called to the scene to help control the fire.
Twenty firefighters eventually managed to bring it under control but it was too far advanced to save the station.
The PSNI said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding the blaze but the Fire and Rescue Service said initial investigations suggest it may have been started by an electrical fault.
Fire and Rescue Service area commander Don McKay said that contingency measures are in place to ensure there is adequate fire cover in the area.
“We can assure everyone that even though the fire station is very badly damaged the local community need not be afraid because fire cover is being maintained. A contingency plan is in place,” he said.