Belfast Telegraph

Cut in Northern Ireland towns' fire cover over budget fears

(stock picture)
(stock picture)

The fire service in Northern Ireland is to cut crews because of budgetary pressures, with smaller towns being hit hardest.

Fire cover will move from full-time to part-time in a number of towns, including Carrickfergus, Enniskillen and Armagh city, the BBC reports.

Interim measures are to be introduced by the fire service to manage budgetary cuts. Latest figures show Northern Ireland has 812 full-time firefighters.

"These temporary measures have been risk-assessed against the impact on both public and firefighter safety and will ensure a safe and effective service," a fire service spokesperson said.

The fire service said it intends to bring a number of new trainees into the organisation in the coming months to allow for the continued delivery of a "safe and effective service".

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Fire crews are to be cut in a bid to save money.

According to the Fire Brigades Union there is a budget shortfall of around £3.2m for 2019-20.

Union leader Jim Quinn told the BBC that the changes could take effect within weeks.

"We are shocked that it's emerged this is a template for the future - we say it's a template for disaster," he said.

"As a result, the public and firefighters will be at risk as there will be a reduction in services across Northern Ireland."

Belfast, which has six stations with 11 appliances crewed on a full-time basis, will also be impacted.

Fire cover will change from full-time to part-time in a number of towns, including Carrickfergus, Enniskillen, Newtownards, Omagh, Portadown and Armagh city.

The fire service said that one of those appliances, crewed on a full-time basis, will instead be staffed from 9am to 5pm by a "resilience" crew, which will be based at headquarters in Lisburn.

"A specialist rescue team will crew it during the the night and at weekends, dependent on operational need," the fire service spokesman said.

The Fire Brigades Union warned that specialist staff, including junior managers, will be asked not to do critical fire safety inspections in public buildings in order to fill rota gaps.

Mr Quinn pledged to fight the cuts.

"We have been asking to meet the permanent health secretary Richard Pengelly but as yet he hasn't been in touch," he said.

"It's important he meets us and listens to those on the front line as he controls the purse strings."

The Department of Health said the fire service has been allocated a budget of £74.1m- an increase of £1.19m

The department said it is working to produce a break-even plan to support the 2019-20 budget allocation.

It said the union had written to Mr Pengelly on July 5 asking for a meeting and the request is being considered.

During 2018-19, the number of emergency calls handled by NIFRS increased by 5.6% on the previous year, to 38,511.

It also attended 24,586 incidents, up 2% on the previous year.

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