High rise fire engine without 24-hour crew

A firefighter moves in on the aerial appliance during the blaze at the Mandarin Palace restaurant along Queens Quay. DER1015MC106
A firefighter moves in on the aerial appliance during the blaze at the Mandarin Palace restaurant along Queens Quay. DER1015MC106

A reduction in firefighters at Northland Road that left a special fire appliance designed to tackle high-rise blazes without a dedicated crew hasn’t been reversed, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has confirmed.

Back in 2015, a reduction in personnel (three staff) at Northland Road resulted in the downgrade of the station’s VEMA aerial appliance, due to its being impossible to permanently man the extendable engine 24 hours a day.

This resulted in crews attending call outs on smaller appliances and, on occasion, having to return to Northland Road for the VEMA in order to tackle fires - this was the case when the Mandarin Palace caught fire on Queen’s Quay/Foyle Embankment on March 11, 2015. NIFRS confirmed the number of firefighters based at Northland Road hasn’t been increased since then, although, it said the VEMA appliance is still available on a 24-hour basis.

“The specialist Aerial Ladder Platform Appliance at Northland Fire Station remains available for operational deployment, when required, 24 hours a day,” a spokesperson said.

Last year former Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin complained the VEMA wasn’t always crewable 24/7.

Referring to the fire in the Mandarin Palace, she said: “Crews had to leave the incident to go back to their station to get the appliance. Those are very clearly risky situations for the crew and, indeed, the wider public.”

NIFRS has this week defended its staffing levels.

“The crewing model used to ensure the availability of this Appliance has been based on detailed analysis of historical incident and response data, which assessed the model’s effectiveness in terms of risk to both public and Firefighter safety. NIFRS remains assured that the current method of crewing and mobilisation does not adversely impact upon its ability to adequately respond to incidents which require an Aerial Ladder Platform Appliance to attend.”