Continuing failure to crew Northland high-rise fire engine risks another Grenfell Tower

A firefighter moves in on the aerial appliance during the blaze at the Mandarin Palace restaurant along Queens Quay in 2015. DER1015MC106
A firefighter moves in on the aerial appliance during the blaze at the Mandarin Palace restaurant along Queens Quay in 2015. DER1015MC106

The Fire Service’s (NIFRS) failure to crew a high-rise fire engine at Northland Road on a 24/7 basis is putting lives at risk and could lead to another Grenfell Tower, trade unionists and politicians have warned.

The continuing non-staffing of the appliance has been prolonged this week after savings measures kicked in on Wednesday.

The move met with incredulity from Jim Quinn of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) who said the identification of the vehicle as a low risk cost-cutting measure was unbelievable in the wake of high-profile call outs at the high-rise Mandarin Palace and Altnagelvin buildings over recent years.

The SDLP’s public safety spokesman Mark H. Durkan who will meet the FBU on Monday also expressed disbelief after the recent fire disaster in West London.

Mr. Quinn said: “It’s okay saying it only happens once or twice a year but the Mandarin Palace is the best example. All of Northern Ireland’s appliances were up in Derry that night. It’s crazy.

“The analogy we always use, and it’s probably the most perfect: an airport can’t open if there’s not a fire appliance in place. However, how many times do you get a crash in an airport. The demand’s low but the risk is massive. I think the people in Derry are being treated abysmally.”

Mr. Durkan agreed: “The potential impact of these cuts to the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service cannot be overstated. In particular, the removal of a support crew for the aerial appliance based at Northland Road could have devastating consequences.

“We have seen the recent catastrophe at Grenfell and ,a few years ago, disaster being averted by firefighters when there was a fire at Altnagelvin hospital. These incidents show the value of the aerial appliance.”

A NIFRS spokesperson said: “As part of this wider range of saving proposals it was agreed to change the crewing model on the ALP at Northland Station. This change brings it in line with the current crewing arrangements for the other ALPs at Springfield and Knock Stations.

“Following an extensive consultation exercise in 2015 it was determined that ALP’s should be ‘alternatively crewed’ rather than continue to be crewed by a dedicated team.

“The specialist appliance at Crescent Link Station will continue to be crewed by 4 personnel. However, it was agreed that in the event that Firefighters are required at another location, up to 2 personnel from the specialist appliance may be released.

A DoH spokesperson said: “NIFRS is required to deliver an annual balanced financial plan. Despite additional allocations, the Department continues to face significant financial challenges.

“The indicative budget allocation for 17/18 for NIFRS is £72.2m compared to £72.5m in 16/17. NIFRS were asked to identify savings that were capable of being delivered in 17/18 and that minimised the impact on frontline service delivery. The safety of the Public and Firefighters remains the priority.”