Firefighters in Enniskillen have claimed changes to staffing at the station will have a “huge impact” on response times once they are implemented.

The budget cuts to the NIFRS will see a £3.2 million shortfall which has forced the organisation to introduce interim measures to allow it to operate within safe staffing levels.

This will mean that Enniskillen 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.

Close sources claim that the changes in the structure will affect their response times.

“To the community and wider public what this really means is our response time will be slowed, from 90 seconds to eight minutes. With three personnel we would require two more to make up a crew to go out the door. That’s providing that there will be two on duty as the availability system which the part-time firefighters operate under can allow everyone off at the same time potentially. That puts an added strain on part-time guys who are already stretched and operating around their regular work commitments. It’s an attack on front line services in the area which we all serve. At a house fire or road traffic collision seconds can be vital,” claimed the source.

At Monday’s meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, the SDLP’s Adam Gannon raised the issue saying he had been contacted by a full-time firefighter.

“The reason why they contacted ourselves was because they said they asked the questions about what changes could potentially happen in Fermanagh and Omagh and they received no answers so they came to us to ask the question, for this Council to ask the question of what’s going to happen.

“They are away on their holidays now and they are not sure if they are going to have a job when they come back.

“Just to put it in perspective, any impact on our full time fire service any cuts, we don’t know fully yet, but if it was cut to part time only, it would reduce the response time from 90 seconds on the road to eight minutes on the road. A lot can happen in eight minutes just in terms of fire spreading. So I would like to propose that we write to the NIFRS to ask what changes are happening and that we as a Council find it completely unacceptable that essential services are even being considered for cuts.”

However the NIFRS has dismissed the notion that this will affect the organisation’s operation. The interim measures have been risk assessed and NIFRS will continue to provide a safe and effective service across all of Northern Ireland,” said a NIFRS spokesperson. “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.”

There has been widespread reaction to the cuts announcement with the Fire Brigades Union describing them as a “template for disaster”.

Jim Quinn, FBU executive council member for Northern Ireland, said: “The plans show a shocking disregard for public safety and particularly the safety of provincial communities. Major residential areas will be left with slower response times and reduced fire cover which, frankly, is not enough to keep the public safe.

“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.”

Cross-Community Labour Alternative Councillor for Enniskillen, Donal O’Cofaigh said the cuts could have “tragic consequences”.

“Fire service management say that the reduction in cover in Enniskillen and Omagh will only be temporary, but our experience across the public service is that when cuts are made, they are rarely reversed in this age of austerity.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Rosemary Barton also voiced concern as to what effect the cuts will have.

“The community are extremely appreciative of the role carried out by the Fire & Rescue Service, it is now clear that this provision cannot be taken for granted, it is imperative that in the interests of public safety this emergency service is properly funded and managed. Again it is the west of Northern Ireland that will suffer more imbalance in these swinging cuts, with western towns of Enniskillen and Omagh as well as Co. Armagh towns of Portadown and Armagh all being reported as planned for a serious negative impact.”

The changes are due to take effect on Monday, August 12.