Council seeks urgent meeting with Fire Service over Carrickfergus station

Cllr Noel Williams at Lancasterian Street fire station.
Cllr Noel Williams at Lancasterian Street fire station.

Mid and East Antrim Council is seeking an urgent meeting with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service over interim measures for Carrick Fire Station.

Councillors backed a proposal by Alliance Cllr Noel Williams at Monday night’s meeting of the local government authority.

It follows concern from the Fire Brigades Union and elected representatives that in response to budget cuts Lancasterian Street station will effectively become a part-time service.

The measures, according to NIFRS, will mean 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 Williams proposed that council invites the Chief Fire Officer and the officials from the FBU “to attend urgent meeting/s to seek to ensure that Carrickfergus maintains its present level of staffing and funding to keep property and citizens safe”.

Also due to meet with NIFRS this week as part of a UUP delegation is East Antrim MLA John Stewart.

He said: “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.”

Meanwhile, East Antrim DUP MLAs David Hilditch and Gordon Lyons joined party leader Arlene Foster in discussions with FBU representatives on Monday afternoon.

Mr Hilditch highlighted the invaluable contribution of part time (retained) firefighters in ensuring there is 24-hour service provided.

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, said it is working to produce a break-even plan to support the 2019-20 budget allocation.

A spokesperson for the department said: “Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) have been allocated a 2019/20 budget of £74.1m, an increase of £1.19m on the final 2018/19 position. NIFRS are working to produce a break-even plan to support the 2019/20 budget allocation. The break-even plan has yet to be finalised and a projected financial position for 2019/20 cannot be confirmed at this stage.”

NIFRS has assured Carrickfergus residents it will continue to put public safety first.

Chief Fire and Rescue Officer (interim) Michael Graham said: “The interim measures have been risk assessed and NIFRS will continue to provide a safe and effective service across all of Northern Ireland.”