Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has assured Carrickfergus residents it will continue to put public safety first.
It follows concern from the Fire Brigades Union and elected representatives that under proposals in response to budget cuts Carrickfergus Fire Station will effectively become a part-time service.
Speaking about the Interim Service Delivery Model, Chief Fire and Rescue Officer (Interim) Michael Graham said: “NIFRS completely rejects that these interim measures will not allow this organisation to operate within safe staffing levels and totally refutes any suggestion that we do not put the safety of the public and our firefighters first.
“The interim measures have been risk assessed and NIFRS will continue to provide a safe and effective service across all of Northern Ireland.
“The introduction of these temporary measures will not only help us manage our budget in the short-term but they will help us assess any impact and inform any longer-term change. These changes have been brought about after detailed consideration and will allow NIFRS to continue to provide a safe and effective service.
“The stations affected will continue to have the same operational cover they currently provided at evenings and weekends. These changes are about using the resources available to us in the most efficient and effective way.
“This will mean that Carrickfergus station, which is currently crewed with five full-time firefighters between 8am and 6pm (Monday to Friday) supported by on-call (part-time) firefighters, will change to nucleus crewing, which is three full-time firefighters supported by on-call firefighters.”
Mr Graham added the majority of local stations are already crewed by on-call firefighters 24/7 “and they continue to deliver an exceptional service to the public”. Earlier today, East Antrim UUP MLA John Stewart claimed: “Part-time firefighters locally already provide an extremely valuable service but chopping the full-time crews in Carrickfergus can only be seen as a reduction to front line services and a threat to public safety.”
In a updated statement this afternoon, Mr Stewart said he will join party colleagues at a meeting with the Chief Fire Officer next week at NIFRS HQ “to raise these concerns directly and offer whatever support and assistance possible to help avoid these reductions in service”.
The FBU has vowed to fight what it says are cuts intended to make up a £3.26 million shortfall in NIFRS’s revenue budget, following reductions from £81.6 million in 2011/12 to £74.1 in 2019/20.
FBU leader Jim Quinn said: “This is not a template for the future, it’s a template for disaster. It’s outrageous and the FBU will not stand idly by.”
The Department of Health, which has responsibility for NIFRS, told the BBC it is working to produce a break-even plan to support the 2019-20 budget allocation.
In 2006, the legacy Carrickfergus Council awarded the Freedom of the Borough to firefighters for their life-saving work. The station has been serving the town for more than 100 years.