Politicians in Northern Ireland have expressed concern at reported cuts to fire crews with claims that public safety is being put at risk.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service is to reduce fire cover to part-time in some towns, including Carrickfergus, Enniskillen and Armagh city, the BBC has reported.
The “temporary interim measures” will be introduced to manage budgetary cuts. A fire service spokesperson said: “These temporary measures have been risk-assessed against the impact on both public and firefighter safety and will ensure a safe and effective service.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, who worked for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service for 16 years, said plans to slash crews will inevitably lead to an increased danger to public safety.
Robbie Butler MLA said: “These are quite simply frightening proposals. 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.”
According to the MLA, the NIFRS business plan for 2018/19 stated that emergency cover is to be provided by an establishment of 917 full-time firefighters. There are only 812 full-time firefighters in place.
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan also raised concerns at the move, predicting implications for the service’s ability to react to emergency calls and carry out vital inspection work.
“Ultimately this could put public safety and the safety of fire-fighters at risk,” Mr Sheehan said.
“The Department of Health with responsibility for funding the fire and rescue service must engage meaningfully with the service and with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).”
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw also expressed concern at the imminent budgetary cuts and called for further funding allocations for the service. She commented: “The rise in the budget allocated to the Fire Service is nothing like enough, falling clearly short of what is necessary in real terms. If there are options for reform of the Service we are happy to look at them, but effectively reducing the funding available while expecting the same level of coverage is clearly not an option.
“It should be emphasised again this is yet another consequence of the DUP and Sinn Féin failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with their mandates.”
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