The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service has announced a raft of cuts aimed at dealing with a £3.26 million funding shortfall. Belfast has lost one fire engine, but the worst hit towns are Carrickfergus, Portadown, Omagh, Enniskillen, Newtowards and Armagh.
Until now, these fire stations have been staffed by a full crew from 8am to 6pm on weekdays, meaning calls could be responded to immediately. The cuts have seen staffing levels reduced so that, even during these hours, additional firefighters have to be called in before a crew can respond to emergencies. This will lead to delays which could have tragic consequences. In addition, specialist teams and fire safety officers being drawn into standard cover to plug the gaps.
‘Temporary’ cuts become permanent
Fire service management have introduced these cuts – which are strongly opposed by the Fire Brigades Union – rapidly and with no consultation. They say the measures are temporary, but our experience across the public sector is that ‘temporary’ cuts usually become permanent. The funding shortfall has arisen because the budget allocated to the fire service from the Department of Health has not increased to meet rising demand.
Build a campaign to save our fire service
We must oppose these cuts which could put lives at risk and demand the necessary funding – a relative pittance – is put in place urgently. We know money can be found when it suits the political establishment, for junkets and handout to big business. It is a question of political priorities. A campaign of community protests and trade union action can win.