The public are being asked for their feedback on the level of cover at Carrickfergus Fire Station.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) is consultating on how best to manage firefighter resources given the changing risk profile of Northern Ireland.
Eight locations, including Carrickfergus, currently have wholetime firefighters based in the station seven days a week from 7.30am to 7.30pm, plus retained firefighters providing cover 24 hours a day.
Under the new proposals, these stations would maintain the retained cover 24/7 whilst wholetime firefighters would be based in the station Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 6.00pm.
The consultation follows a risk assessment, identifying the risk levels in all 67 station areas over a five-year period. This has identified that in 11 station areas the risk levels and resources are not effectively matched, said the NIFRS.
Under the proposed new changes, NIFRS has also identified four station areas - Enniskillen, Downpatrick, Dungannon and Strabane – which would benefit from additional wholetime firefighters whilst at the same time maintaining the retained cover 24/7.
The wholetime firefighters would provide enhanced prevention, protection and emergency response from Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 6.00pm.
The availability or number of fire appliances will not be impacted by these proposed changes.
ACFO Gary Thompson said: “If we were to introduce these new proposals we could redeploy up to 28 wholetime posts to the identified stations to maximise the use of existing resources.
“We have a duty to ensure that we provide the best possible fire and rescue service to the people of Northern Ireland.
“We are confident that this proposal would enable us to make the most effective and efficient use of our operational resources aligned to the risk profile of Northern Ireland.
“These proposed changes are subject to Section 75 consultation and review. If accepted they will be introduced through a phased rollout over a one to two year period.”
Carrick’s fire station is one of the largest in east Antrim and covers a wide area, according to Sinn Fein MLA, Oliver McMullan, who has expressed concern at the proposals.
“It provides an absolutely vital service and any reduction in its operating hours could have far reaching and potentially life-threatening consequences,” he claimed.
“Rural areas in particular depend on local fire stations and firefighters who are able to get to the scene of an emergency as soon as possible.
“Not only does the station serve the local area but also provides backup to firefighters in Larne and Belfast in the event of a major emergency incident.”
Mr McMullan has written to the health minister asking him to review these plans.
A spokesman from the Department of Health said: “The Northern Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has responsibility for understanding the possible level of risk of fire etc across Northern Ireland and deploying their existing resources appropriately and proportionately to deal with it. Any proposal to change how the service is delivered by NIFRS is subject to appropriate consultation.
“The safety of the public and firefighters remains a priority.”
Consultation opened today (Monday, December 14) for a 12-week period and documents can be accessed on NIFRS website http://www.nifrs.org/consultation/
Hard copies are available by contacting NIFRS’s Equality and Inclusion Unit on 028 9266 4221.
As part of the consultation process, NIFRS will be engaging with staff, representative bodies and key stakeholders.