Firefighters tackle more than 6,000 NI blazes during pandemic

Firefighters have tackled more than 6,000 blazes in Northern Ireland during the coronavirus pandemic.

Firefighters tackle a blaze at Crumlin Road courthouse
Firefighters tackle a blaze at Crumlin Road courthouse

The figure represents an increase of almost 500 incidents compared to the same period of time in 2019.

Statistics released by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) show its personnel responded to 6,294 incidents from March to May 2020, up from 5,837 incidents in the same period in 2019.

The rise represents a 50% increase in accidental house fires, a 76% increase in wildfires as well as a 60% drop in the number of road traffic collisions.

Chief fire and rescue officer Michael Graham said some of the major blazes included fires at Crumlin Road court house and the Bombardier plant.

“We’ve seen a difference in the types of incidents we’re attending, with a decrease in road traffic collisions because people are travelling less,” he said.

“However in March 2020 we saw a serious rise in the number of accidental dwelling fires as people spent more time at home in lockdown, with firefighters attending 231 accidental house fires in March, April and May, with one person tragically losing their life.

“Every single one of these incidents is something we are trying to avoid but I am pleased to say that the number of house fires we’re attending has been falling.

“During the pandemic we’ve been working really hard with our partners, including the Department for Communities, to provide fire safety advice to people who need our help the most and I believe the decrease in the number of accidental house fires in the last few weeks reflect the positive outcome of that work.”

Mr Graham said the service has faced more challenges due to the pandemic but it has avoided the “very worst-case scenario”.

“The organisation, however, continues to operate with extreme caution implementing strict preventative and protective measures to protect its people and the public,” he added.

“As we move into the recovery phase and the ‘new normal’, we are acutely aware that we need to remain cautious.

“We’re continuing to protect our people through proactive measures to maintain social distancing where we can, providing all necessary PPE and allowing people to work from home where it’s possible, among other measures.

“The public have an absolutely vital role to play in supporting their firefighters. They must continue to exercise extreme caution when it comes to fire safety at home and in the countryside, and as businesses open up again, over the coming days, we would ask everyone to think about fire safety in the workplace at this difficult time.

“These have been a tough few months and there are considerable challenges ahead, but with the support of the public our firefighters will continue to be there when our community needs us most.”