‘The one time there is a problem is one time too many’ - Fire Brigade rep

Emergency services attend a fire at Altnagelvin Hospital back in 2012. (2411Sl11)
Emergency services attend a fire at Altnagelvin Hospital back in 2012. (2411Sl11)

If a fire breaks out in any of the 30 local high rise buildings, the only aerial appliance for 70 miles may not be immediately available in future, representatives of Fire & Rescue personnel have warned.

A presentation by the NI Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on Tuesday detailed the impact of cutbacks, which have meant the dedicated crew for the high rise appliance at Northland Road are now also responsible for an additional fire engine.

At the same time, dedicated crew for a specialist rescue appliance based at Crescent Link, used for incidents including car accidents and flooding, have also been cut.

There are now also fears the ‘temporary cuts’ imposed at Northland Road Station could become permanent.

Councillors on the Derry & Strabane Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee were asked to lobby for a reversal of the “savage cuts,” as FBU representatives warned that the current funding issues were putting lives at risk in Derry.

Jim Quinn, an FBU Executive Council member, who was joined at the meeting by Regional Secretary Stephen Boyd,said that the cuts came about after the Department of Health allocated £2.2m funding less than what was requested by the Chief Fire Officer for this year.

A further £700,000 was secured after intense lobbying and a media campaign.

A contingency savings plan had resulted in the cuts to Derry services, he said, which means a reduction to the number of crew members at Northland Road Station at any one time.

He added that there was already talk of this becoming permanent.

Manning of the rescue vehicle at Crescent Link, meanwhile, has been cut from four personnel to just two.

Mr. Quinn said that for the past 60 years the Fire Brigade here have had a contract to cover East Donegal and giving an example of the impact of the cuts, he said that if something major were to occur north of the border requiring the aerial appliance, if local officers were at the scene of a car crash in Donegal, officers would have to be brought back, possibly by taxi.

“If it is a life-saving rescue, we don’t care if the fire is in Burnfoot, Muff, Derry city, or Strabane. If we can get there quicker, then that is something we will do,” he insisted.

He said that part of the reasoning cited for the cutbacks was that the aerial appliance in Derry was used only three times last year and was involved in one rescue.

“If I am sitting on the top of the City Hotel waiting to be rescued, I don’t care how many times it’s been out this year. The other issue is we are going to have fire-fighters attempting to do the impossible, putting their own lives at risk.

“We might not have a problem here for six months but the one time there is a problem is one time too many.”

SDLP Colr. Jim McKeever, a former member of the board of the Fire Service, said: “It only takes one incident anywhere and someone is going to lose their life.”

Sinn Fein Colr. Brian McMahon described the presentation as “both shocking and harrowing” and agreed with earlier suggestions that this was about people in the west being “second class citizens.”

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said that in terms of high rise buildings, Altnagelvin Hospital has seen a number of fires over the past six years, including a major incident in 2012.

“It is an indictment of the powers that be, if they are not listening to professionals that are telling them that lives are being put at risk here.”

DUP Colr. Drew Thompson said it was important to realise that in this particular are a there were 30 high rise buildings that require the use of a high rise appliance and also many episodes requiring the high risk specialist appliance.

Committee Chair, Sinn Fein Colr. Paul Fleming, vowed that the various political factions within council will ensure the message reaches those who need to hear it.