Concerns have been expressed over fire cover in Portadown with proposed changes to full-time staffing hours at the town’s fire station.
Dozens of firefighters descended on Stormont on Monday to support a motion by local Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson highlighting the threats to the Fire and Rescue Service.
The motion raised concerns that the Health Minister is not protecting the Fire Service Budget as a front line service.
The motion also highlighted the proposed downgrading of seven Fire Stations, including Portadown station which amongst other changes will no longer have full time cover at weekends.
Proposing the motion and referring to the Chief Fire Officer’s recent letter to the Department of Health, Mrs Dobson said: “Here we have the most senior fire officer in the country with almost 30 years’ experience effectively pleading with the Health Department and ultimately the Minister Simon Hamilton to show some sense.”
She said: “The Health Minister Simon Hamilton’s refusal to treat the Fire and Rescue Service as a Front Line Service has rightly angered firefighters who risk their lives on a daily basis whether amongst many duties responding to house fires, road traffic accidents and flooding incidents.
“When I met the firefighters at Portadown station last year they were rightly critical of the potential impact of this stance. Now, we are seeing Portadown station being ‘downgraded’ and the associated risk to the public which this will create if full time cover is reduced by 42% as proposed. Of course we must remember that downgrading cover in Portadown also affects other towns and the response times across the region.
“The Health Minister must change his attitude to the Fire Service - words alone will not do it! Simply saying that the Fire Service is valued as a front line service when at the same time slashing its budget is unacceptable.”
An NIFRS spokesman said they will begin a public consultation on how best to manage firefighter resources given the changing risk profile of Northern Ireland.
He added, “The consultation follows a risk assessment, identifying the risk levels in all 67 station areas over a five year period. This assessment has clearly identified that in 11 station areas the risk levels and resources are not effectively matched.
Portadown currently has Wholetime firefighters based in the station seven days a week, 7.30am–7.30pm plus Retained firefighters providing cover 24 hours a day. Under the new proposal these stations would maintain the Retained cover 24/7 whilst Wholetime firefighters would be based on station Monday–Friday, 8am–6pm.
“The availability or number of fire appliances will not be impacted by these proposed changes,” the spokesman said.
ACFO Gary Thompson said, “We are confident that this proposal would enable us to make the most effective and efficient use of our operational resources aligned to the risk profile of Northern Ireland.”
Consultation will run for a 12 week period and documents can be accessed on NIFRS website http://www.nifrs.org/consultation/ or hard copies are available by contacting NIFRS’s Equality & Inclusion Unit, on 028 9266 4221 Ext 2301.