Plans to slash crews will put lives at risk, warns ex-firefighter
A former firefighter turned politician has warned that plans to slash fire crews because of budget pressures will put safety at risk.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said the cuts are a "temporary interim measure". They will see fire cover move from full-time to part-time in Carrickfergus, Portadown, Omagh, Enniskillen, Newtownards and Armagh, while emergency resources will also be reduced in Belfast.
The NIFRS business plan for 2018/19 says that emergency cover is to be provided by an establishment of 917 full-time firefighters. However, latest figures show Northern Ireland has 812 full-time firefighters, down from 855 three years ago.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the cuts were "outrageous".
According to the FBU, there is a budget shortfall of around £3.26m for 2019-20, following years of reductions from £81.6m in 2011/12 to £74.1m for this year.
Jim Quinn, FBU executive council member for Northern Ireland, said the plans show a shocking disregard for public safety, in particular those living in provincial communities.
He said: "Major residential areas will be left with slower response times and reduced fire cover which, frankly, is not enough to keep the public safe.
"Emergency response in Belfast is being stripped to the bare bone, seriously limiting our ability to respond to a fire like Primark, or, indeed, like Grenfell." He added: "This is not a template for the future, it's a template for disaster."
UUP MLA Robbie Butler, who worked for the fire service for 16 years before being elected to the Assembly, said the proposals are "frightening".
He added: "In my former role I saw almost daily the importance of appliances and personnel arriving at scenes as quickly as possible.
"Yet if these plans are pushed through, many thousands of homes across some of our main towns are going to have to wait longer for assistance and fires will be given more time to take hold.
"It is ridiculous that budgetary pressures are being placed ahead of public safety, as well as the safety of officers who are now being expected to do even more with less."
DUP leader Arlene Foster will meet with the FBU on Monday and says she is "deeply concerned" by plans to reduce cover in five provincial stations.
During 2018/19, the number of emergency calls handled by NIFRS increased by 5.6% on the previous year, to 38,511.