Fire death risk 'highest in UK'
The risk of deaths and injuries from fire in Northern Ireland is still higher than other parts of the UK, a report has said.
The performance of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) is still below average compared with England, with the number of deliberate blazes also higher, the Audit Office document added.
Levels of arson and hoax calls fell by around a fifth in recent years.
The report said: "Historically there has been a higher incidence of fires and deaths and injury from fire in Northern Ireland when compared to similar services in England. Performance is still below the family group average in these important areas and more significantly the rate of improvement is also lower."
In 2009/10 there were 27 casualties per 100,000 population - more than three times higher than similar English regions. There were 224 fires per 100,000 population. In 2010/11 there were 11 accidental fire deaths in homes and 137 serious injuries. There were 806 residential fires and 1,832 deliberate blazes.
The fire service has an annual budget of approximately £80 million.
The report noted that the NIFRS had the benefit of dedicated, loyal, hard-working staff.
"With the pressure on finances mounting for all public services, NIFRS will need to continue to identify how it can be more efficient and reduce costs, including staff overtime for example, through its resource management review project," it added.
Its recommendations included that the Department of Health (the overseeing department) needs to further enhance the way it challenges the fire service in how it uses its money and other resources; and the department should monitor the fire service performance more systematically against other UK and Republic of Ireland fire services to produce improvement.
The report said: "The Audit Commission's key finding was that it assessed NIFRS as performing adequately overall. Had the Audit Commission been scoring NIFRS, as it would have done in a review of an English fire and rescue service, NIFRS would have received a score of level two, an organisation that meets minimum requirements and performs adequately."