The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has slammed “outrageous” cuts to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), after management proposed reducing fire cover in some areas, while cutting emergency resources in Belfast. The cuts are intended to make up a £3.26M shortfall in NIFRS’s revenue budget, following years of reductions from £81.6M in 2011/12 to £74.1M in 2019/20.The proposed cost-cutting measures would:
- Reduce fire cover from full time to effectively part-time in Carrickfergus, Portadown, Omagh, Enniskillen, Newtownards and Armagh
- Remove one fire engine from the only fire station in the centre of Belfast
- Use specialist fire safety officers and junior managers to fill crewing shortages on fire engines across Northern Ireland, leaving crucial fire safety inspection work and risk-critical training further depleted
- Use the only Specialist Rescue Team, intended for complex rescues, such as building collapses or water rescues, as a firefighting crew, potentially delaying their response to other emergencies
- Remove funds to improve fire cover in Downpatrick, Dungannon, and Strabane.
Jim Quinn, FBU executive council member for Northern Ireland, said:
"The plans show a shocking disregard for public safety and particularly the safety of provincial communities. 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. This is not a template for the future, it's a template for disaster. It's outrageous and the FBU will not stand idly by."
The latest proposed cuts follow years of deteriorating fire safety in Northern Ireland. Three fire engines equipped for use in high-rise buildings are no longer crewed, taking significantly longer to mobilise. The number of fire inspection officers has depleted well below the level necessary to carry out their vital safety role.
NIFRS provides a cheaper cost per head of population fire service than England, Scotland or indeed Wales. Unlike services in England and Wales, NIFRS is a stand-alone fire and rescue service unable to call upon assistance from neighbouring brigades.