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Coronavirus: Firefighter turned MLA Robbie Butler willing to return to frontline to help during pandemic

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Robbie Butler MLA with colleagues at Stormont on his last day on the job in 2016

Robbie Butler MLA with colleagues at Stormont on his last day on the job in 2016

Robbie Butler MLA with colleagues at Stormont on his last day on the job in 2016

UUP MLA Robbie Butler has revealed that he is willing to return to his former job as a firefighter to help out during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Butler worked for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) for 16 years before being elected as MLA for Lagan Valley in 2016.

On Monday the Fire Brigades Union said that 147 NIFRS staff in are self isolating due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

NIFRS said that fires in the home during March were nearly 50% higher than the same period last year due to the increased amount of time people are spending at home.

Mr Butler told BBC Radio Ulster that in light of the increased pressures the fire service was facing he had contacted the Interim Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Michael Graham to offer his services as a volunteer.

The UUP MLA joined the NIFRS on Valentine's Day 2000 and said he had 16 "really good years" as part of the organisation.

"I served in just about every capacity that you could imagine," Mr Butler explained.

"The fire service invest an awful lot of money, time and training into their personnel, firefighters are highly trained professionals, they really are."

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UUP MLA Robbie Butler

UUP MLA Robbie Butler

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

UUP MLA Robbie Butler

Mr Butler said he was aware of a number of former NIFRS personnel offering their services if needed during the pandemic.

"When you see the NHS ask for nurses and GPs and doctors and all those people to come back onto the front line, and (in the NIFRS) you have 7.5% isolating and you have to take the sickness into account, and I know that they have allocated some recruits, maybe they have limited capacity and limited training ability at this stage," he said.

"I know having spoken to the chief that at the moment they do have the capacity and their routine service is probably at its greatest capacity for many years which is excellent, but as this thing goes on and more and more people are exposed to coronavirus I think that 7.5% potentially can only go one way."

Mr Butler said that the rising temperatures would lead to the fire service's busiest time of the year during the summer.

Firefighters battled major gorse blazes in Fermanagh and Tyrone on Tuesday evening.

"The grass gets very dry and at times the fire service can be very, very stretched between April and the end of May, hopefully that isn't the case this year, but I'm sure they are preparing for it.

The Lagan Valley MLA said that he would be happy to get involved on the front line tackling fires if given the chance.

"I would love to be used operationally because that's where my heart was, in the job. The only thing I couldn't do is drive the trucks because that's no longer on my driving license. With regards to the rest of it I imagine, with an element of training breathing apparatus and road traffic collisions there's nothing you couldn't do.

"To be honest I would be more than happy just to go in and assist in a support mechanism even, just to help the guys and girls on the front line to ensure that they're as safe as possible and that they have the resources where they need them at the right time."

Belfast Telegraph