A major government fire risk assessment has revealed that Dungannon residents and their property are in danger because there are not enough firefighters stationed in the town.
The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) announced that a five-year risk assessment exercise had identified 11 station areas where risk levels and resources were not effectively matched.
It added that, because of this, it was proposing that Dungannon, as well as Enniskillen, Downpatrick, and Strabane should get additional full-time firefighters.
Ironically, the increase in fire personnel in the town has come about because of one of the biggest overhauls of Northern Ireland’s fire service.
While Dungannon will get more resources there will be cuts in Coleraine, Carrickfergus, Antrim, Portadown, Armagh, Newtownards and Omagh, with opening hours reduced from 7.30am-7.30pm seven days a week to Monday-Friday 8am-6pm.
Firefighters have warned lives could be lost if the plans to cut station opening hours are approved.
The Fire Service said its proposals to close some bases at the weekend and reduce opening hours in others while asking staff to maintain 24-hour cover were appropriate to Northern Ireland’s “risk profile”.
But the Fire Brigades Union warned that there was not enough money to run a safe and efficient service and urged Health Minister Simon Hamilton to intervene.
“The bottom line is the budget has been cut and it is having an impact on cover,” said Fire Brigade Union chairman Dermot Rooney.
“We don’t believe they have enough budget to be able to run a safe and efficient fire service. The minister needs to do something about it.”
Mr Rooney claimed this represented a 40% reduction in cover and said the proposals could put lives in danger.
“It is spreading cover more thinly across Northern Ireland,” he added. “People in the likes of Newtownards and Antrim will lose cover to provide cover in other places.
“They are basically robbing Peter to pay Paul because the budget has been reduced.
“In 2012, the fire service budget would have been around £81m. It is now down to £69m, with a further cut expected to come in the next financial year. We don’t believe that they would do this if they had the money.
“We don’t disagree there is risk in the four towns, but we certainly disagree with reducing cover in one area to give it to somewhere else.”
Mr Rooney also told how the union had serious concerns about the potential impact on public and firefighter safety, claiming that the proposals could increase response times considerably.
“If you have not got firefighters available for immediate turnout, there is a response time delay,” he explained.
“No matter how committed the firefighter, there is a four to five-minute delay when they are alerted to when they come into the station.
“That four-five minutes is lost off the time that the crew have to get to the incident. Time can cost lives in terms of response times. Potentially, lives could be lost”.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Gary Thompson said that if they were accepted, the plans could be phased in over a period of two years. “We have clearly identified a change in the risk profile of N.I.”