The Fire Brigades Union says it is worried about further cuts to the fire and rescue service here, even after warning that lives are at risk following cuts already put in place.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has been asked to make ‘savings’ as a result of a budget crisis faced by the Department of Health, under whose remit the fire service falls.
The Fire Brigades Union warned recently that the fire service would no longer have a dedicated crew to operate specialist life-saving equipment used for emergencies at high-rise buildings at the Northland Road fire station in Londonderry.
Jim Quinn, executive council member for the union, warned that the loss of the dedicated crew could have “devastating consequences for the safety of the public”.
Now, Mr Quinn said the union has written to the fire service to ask what further cuts might still be expected.
Mr Quinn said the union is concerned about the prospect of further cuts suggested in a document outlining a range of possible “savings”, drafted last month to account for a budget shortfall of more than £2 million.
The NIFRS has produced its ‘savings plan’ after being given an “indicative budget allocation of £72.2m” by the Department of Health, £2.3 million short of the £74.5m the NIFRS say it needs.
The ‘savings plan’ outlines a range of possible measures marked ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ risk and recommends both the low and medium risk measures move ahead.
The reduction in ‘crewing levels’ for the specialist equipment at the Northland Road station, which Mr Quinn said could cause potentially fatal delays if it is needed “to perform a high-rise rescue”, is marked as one of the ‘low’ risk measures in the savings plan.
Mr Quinn said: “We have written to the chief fire officer to ask what exactly the budget cut is, has he been informed exactly what the shortfall is by the Department of Health, and if so what is his timeline for implementing the cuts.”
He said one of the big budget pressures was the reliance on overtime to ensure “safe” stafffing levels, something he said would be improved if newly trained firefighters were recruited.
He added: “We are already stretched as it is, and you can see that by the amount of hours of overtime worked. New recruits being brought in would ease that pressure and save money in the long run.”
Fire Service ‘savings plan’
In its savings plan, the NIFRS says the budget it has been given will have “a significant impact on proposed service delivery”.
Savings identified that are marked as ‘low risk’ include:
• No longer ‘primary’ crewing an aerial appliance in Londonderry
• A freeze on support staff recruitment.
Medium risk savings include:
• Maintenance on NIFRS estates to be stopped except for urgent health and safety work
• A reduction in training expenditure
• A reduction in the number of ‘flexible duty’ officers on the rota.
High risk savings include:
• Stopping the use of overtime to fill ‘crewing dependencies’ that would likely take three appliances out of operation in Belfast
• Delaying the recruitment of new firefighters.