Plans to cut local fire cover spark concern

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

Proposals to stop manning Derry’s aerial fire truck on a routine basis could result in lives being lost, the Fire Brigades’ Union has warned.

Union chairman Dermot Rooney told the ‘Derry Journal’ that current proposals to remove 24/7 cover of the aerial appliances could prove disastrous and compromise not only the safety of the public but also fire-fighters themselves.

Derry’s aerial appliance at Northland Road Fire Station, is the sole vehicle of its kind to deal with fires from a height across the entire west - covering everywhere from Ballycastle to Fermanagh.

The NI Fire and Rescue Service is proposing to introduce ‘flexible crewing arrangements’ on a permanent basis to cover this and two other aerial appliances at Portadown and Belfast, due to budgetary pressures.

SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said there were concerns among Fire Brigade Union members this would mean crews having to assess at the scene of a fire whether an aerial appliance was needed, then some fire-fighters having to return to the station to collect it, instead of the current situation whereby there was always a team on standby for all vehicles.

Colr. Reilly made his comments at a council meeting this week and suggested the council meet with the union before responding to the ongoing consultation.

Mr Rooney said that at present Northland Road’s two engines and aerial appliance are manned with primary crews and ready to respond to 999 calls, but under these new plans, crews from the pumps would become ‘jump crews’ to take on the aerial duties when needed.

“Our concerns are that it is not safe and is putting the public and fire fighters at risk,” he said.“This is a vital piece of equipment that is going to end up not being immediately available. This is potentially a matter of life and death as this can be used to rescue people from height.”

A spokesman for the Fire & Rescue Service responded: “NI Fire & Rescue Service is a frontline Emergency Service tasked with protecting our community; however as an arm’s length public body we are not protected from budget cuts.

“As a result of the ongoing budgetary pressures, we continue to consider all available options to further reduce expenditure. We are currently consulting on a proposal to extend the use of ‘flexible crewing’ which utilises firefighters from pumping appliances to crew aerial appliances on a call-by-call basis arrangements for our three aerial appliances currently crewed on a whole time basis, one of which is based at Northland Fire Station.

“Consultation on this closes on 14 August and NIFRS welcomes all responses. Consultation documents can be accessed on our website www.nifrs.org/consultation.”