LIVES could be put at risk with cuts to the NI Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) under proposals which include reduced cover at Omagh fire station, it has been claimed.
On Friday, it emerged that a number of fire stations in towns across the North would be reduced from full-time to part-time cover.
At present, the Omagh fire station has five fire officers based at the station from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. It has been confirmed that under the cuts, the level of cover at Omagh will see just three officers based at the station on a daily basis.
Jim Quinn, who is the leader of the Fire Brigades Union in Northern Ireland, said in an emergency situation, time would be lost calling in part-time officers.
“As far as we are concerned, this is totally unacceptable,” he told the Herald.
“Precious time would be lost waiting for additional officers to come into the station in Omagh and this in turn could put the lives of the public and our officers in danger. It is a similar picture right across the North.”
However, the fire service said the proposals to reduce their cover was a temporary measure.
In a statement the NIFRS 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.”
The emergency service which is deployed to a range of incidents including road crashes said it, “intends to bring a number of new trainees into the organisation over the coming months to allow for the continued delivery of a safe and effective service”.
But Mr Quinn said he feared that these temporary measures would become a permanent situation.
“We have no confidence, that this will be reversed. Once you lose a level of service like this, you will never get it back,” he continued.
“We knew these cuts were coming and we have met with the NIFRS and we recognised there is nothing much they can do, as the money is just not there in the budget.
“What we are now after is a meeting with the Department of Health concerning where the money comes from and we will also be lobbying all our political parties. We will fight this all the way.”
However, in a response to the Tyrone Herald, the NIFRS said they totally ‘refute’ the claims that lives would be endangered by the changes.
“The interim measures have been risk assessed and NIFRS will continue to provide a safe and effective service across all of Northern Ireland,” said chief fire and rescue officer (Interim) Michael Graham.
“The introduction of these temporary measures will not only help us manage our budget in the short-term but they will help us assess any impact and inform any longer-term change.
“These changes have been brought about after detailed consideration and will allow NIFRS to continue to provide a safe and effective service.
“The stations affected will continue to have the same operational cover they currently provided at evenings and weekends.”
Mr Graham added, “This will mean that Omagh station, which is currently crewed with five full-time firefighters between 8am and 6pm (Monday to Friday) supported by on-call (part-time) firefighters, will change to nucleus crewing, which is three full-time firefighters supported by on-call firefighters.
“The majority of our local stations are already crewed by on-call firefighters 24/7 and they continue to deliver an exceptional service to the public.”