The fire service can’t crew its multistorey engine at Northland Road on a 24 hour basis and so firefighters tackling the towering inferno at the Mandarin Palace last year had to go back to the station to get it, making the critical journey to and from the devastating fire, twice.
The Northern Ireland Fire Service (NIFRS) is also stockpiling foam, which it uses to tackle electrical fires because it’s run out in the past and firefighters have had to wait for new stock being shipped over from Britain to allow them to do their jobs properly.
The stark revelations were made during a debate on the fire service on Monday, January 18.
Several local MLAs contributed including Gary Middleton from the DUP, Maeve McLaughlin from Sinn Féin and, Gerry Diver, from the SDLP, who addressed the threat to the local fire service in his maiden speech.
Ms McLaughlin revealed the fire engine with an extending ladder at Northland Road is now being left at home unless specifically requested due to reduced staffing levels she linked to a £12m budget reduction.
“As it stands, the service in my constituency, for example, can no longer primarily crew aerial appliances,” she said.
“It cannot do that in Derry or Belfast. That means that appliances designated to save lives from multistorey buildings are often left in stations with their trained crews out on other appliances dealing with incidents.
“An example of this in my city just last year was a very serious blaze in a Chinese restaurant.
“Crews had to leave the incident to go back to their station to get the appliance. “Those are very clearly risky situations for the crew and, indeed, the wider public.
“In my view, that is simply not acceptable.”
SDLP MLA Gerard Diver lamented the development.
“The Northland Road fire station recently had to downgrade its VEMA aerial appliance. It could not be manned 24 hours a day, being used only on request,” he said.
“That led to a reduction in personnel of three and to protracted waiting times for using the aerial appliance on fires. The VEMA appliance was often used to good effect. For example, during the recent Brickkiln fire, which was a huge fire in our city and district that burned for approximately one week, it poured water on to the blaze from a high level without firefighters having to enter the building and put their lives at risk.”
DUP MLA Gary Middleton said: “I have worked closely with many of our local fire officers in several locations. I have seen at first hand the fantastic
work that they do, whether at the Crescent Link station in Londonderry, which last year responded to over 600 incidents ranging from major fires to road traffic collisions, or the Northland station, which responded to over 1,200 incidents.”
Ms McLaughlin also revealed foam is being hoarded for fear of running out.
“The Fire Service here must stockpile foam because, if it runs out, as has happened, electrical fires will have to be left to burn until more foam can be brought from Britain by ferry. I ask anyone in the Chamber to suggest or indicate that that somehow will not have a detrimental impact or will not at least increase risk.”