Fire deaths fears prompt calls to protect service from cuts
Stormont Assembly members have called for action from the health minister before lives are put at risk by fire service cuts.
A senior fire officer has expressed concern about the "devastating" impact of any budget reduction next year for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).
Assembly members pressed minister Simon Hamilton to protect the service from spending reductions.
SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney said: "People's lives are being put at risk as a result of these budget proposals."
A letter from interim chief fire and rescue officer Dale Ashford to a senior official in the Department of Health, which has overall control of the Fire Service, said a budget reduction of 5% or 10% within the 2016/17 financial year would be devastating.
Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin claimed the number of injuries, rescues and attendances at road traffic collisions which firefighters dealt with were at their highest in five years.
In a letter, obtained by the Fire Brigades Union via a Freedom of Information request, Mr Ashford warned that fire stations would be closed and jobs lost if proposed cuts of 5% were introduced.
Mr Ashford said: "In summary, a budget reduction of either 5% or 10% within the 2016/2017 financial year would have a devastating impact on the operations of the Fire and Rescue Service."